The number of school-leavers in work or enrolled in further education continues to fall, despite the Federal Government’s ongoing focus on skills and training.
The latest report by the COAG Reform Council shows a “baffling gap” in engagement by young Australians in work and study.
The education report shows 18 to 24-year-olds fully engaged in employment, education or training significantly decreased from just over 76% in 2008 to 72.5% in 2011 – the fall attributed to a drop in full-time employment.
In 2011, 72.5% of 20 to 24-year-olds had, or were working towards, a non-school qualification, compared with 71.8% in 2008.
Michael Frost, deputy head of secretariat at the COAG Reform Council, told SmartCompany the skill level of Australia’s workforce will continue to suffer if governments across Australia do not work out how to better engage young people in vocational education and training.
Frost says that from 2008 when the council first started reporting on young people’s engagement in the workforce to 2009 the rate had gone down and has since stayed at the lower level.
“The implications are for the quality of our workforce and the level of skill in our workforce,” he says.
“It takes a long time to engage people who are disengaged.”
Frost says it is also of concern that the overall level of skill attainment in the workforce has increased but that increase has not been enough to meet COAG’s target to halve the proportion of the working population with no qualifications by 2020.
Business groups expressed their alarm at the report’s findings, with the Australian Industry Group singling out the employment, education and training of young people as a “prime area of concern”.
“As a national priority we need to double our efforts if we are to get our workforce ready to reap the benefits of the Asian Century,” AIG chief executive Innes Willox said.
“A concerted effort must be made to re-engage this group in meaningful education, training and employment.”
Willox said while progress had been made by all levels of government, more needed to be done.
“More intensified strategies need to be put into place where progress is lagging,” he said.
“These strategies need to involve all stakeholders, including industry.”
The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry also said the COAG Reform Council’s report indicates that policies are falling short of industry needs and the public deserve more for the considerable investment in education and training.
ACCI’s director of employment, education and training, Jenny Lambert, said it was concerning that despite a great deal of funding and emphasis in the area of youth transitions from school to further study or work that there has been no significant change in the percentage of young people aged 18-24 either in full-time work or full-time education.
“Aiming for “feel-good” targets that are not proven by rigour can result in limited resources being directed away from areas that will yield the greatest dividends,” Lambert says.
“The COAG Reform Council reports on education and skills provide an opportunity for all governments to take stock of the directions their policies are taking and to ensure that the targets that have been set are the right ones for Australia.”