The future is bright for Australia’s brightest young people, but the task ahead is daunting.
The economic challenges ahead for young people are staggering, with the unemployment rate among students at the most advanced level in a generation and rising debt levels that are costing the nation more than $1 trillion per year.
To make matters worse, the Australian Federal Government is facing growing pressure from the business community to act on the recommendations of the Rudd government’s Review of Economic Motivation and Labor’s Productivity Commission.
The report, which was published on Thursday, says there is a need for a return to a more business-friendly approach to economic planning.
The review is being hailed by business groups and academics as an essential contribution to the recovery from the global financial crisis.
But for many, the recommendations are more of a call for the Government to abandon its long-held belief that the best way to stimulate the economy is through higher investment in the skills of young people.
The Commission recommended the Government make greater use of the private sector to provide more opportunities for people to pursue higher education, as well as create new jobs.
The Federal Government has pledged to increase the number of apprenticeships for young Australians and to give financial support to those with disabilities to complete their degree.
The Coalition’s plan to boost the number and pay of apprentices is also welcomed.
But it is expected that most of the changes will come in a range of small- and medium-sized businesses, rather than the Government’s full-blown apprenticeships program.
“The key message is to focus on skills development, rather from the point of view of apprenticeship,” Mr Scott said.
“We need to get the most out of the apprenticeships system.”
The Government is now in a difficult position.
The Commission’s recommendations include the reintroduction of the National Youth Workforce Partnership to encourage employers to recruit young people and to offer vocational training to the nation’s youngest job seekers.
However, while the review is critical of the Government for failing to implement the recommendations, it is likely to provide some of the first steps towards the reforms that Mr Scott says will provide the “economic boost” needed to help young Australians get back on their feet.
“I’m very much supportive of the Commission’s recommendation,” Mr Brown said.
“But I think it’s important to understand what the Commission is saying.
It’s about more investment in training, not less.”
The commission recommends that the Government provide more support to businesses, especially those in the mining and services industries.
“The review also recommends that: • The Government commit to providing greater financial assistance to small and medium sized enterprises; and • The Government allocate additional funding to the Business Training Australia Scheme, and the Government commit that the funding provided will be matched by funding from the Business Investment Fund to assist small and mid sized businesses in achieving their objectives.”
The Government has committed to these measures.
However, the review’s recommendations also call for more of the Federal Government’s focus on training to be focused on those industries that are most reliant on apprenticeships.
Mr Scott says the Government is still missing the mark when it comes to its apprenticeships plans.
“A lot of the time when people hear about apprenticeships and people hear the phrase apprenticeship, it’s about people with experience, but it’s not necessarily the right message,” he said.
“The problem is that it’s an aspirational message that’s not very likely to resonate with the employers and the students.”
“The problem with that is that the industry will be very hesitant to hire people that they think might have a problem.
They won’t want to go out and put up with that.”
What they want to do is get people on the track where they can actually do work, so they can really develop the skills.