It's time to stop blaming young people for the unemployment crisis

How we define systemic issues determines how we frame solutions. Public discourse that suggests young people are to blame for their unemployment leads to policies and systems that will not address youth unemployment.

So here's what happened:

  • YACSA has been studying and talking about the 'youth unemployment crisis' for years.

  • Someone contacted YACSA with some interesting questions about youth unemployment.

  • We thought we'd broadcast our responses, because it's important to understand that young people are not the problem.

Ok. Let's go:

Question 1 - Do we have a youth unemployment issue in SA?


Yes – and it’s not a recent issue – it’s been “urgent” for many years.

Our youth unemployment rate has remained unacceptably high for years with the rate topping 18.7% in April 2017 and remaining as high as 16% in February last year.

The unemployment rate in other parts of South Australia is worse, with Barossa, Yorke and Mid North (15.3%) ranking 15th on a list of the 20 highest youth unemployment rates in the country.   

Of similar concern is that the youth unemployment rates in our suburbs compare to the traditionally high youth unemployment rates in regional and rural areas across the country. 

Note: This graphic is regularly updated to reflect latest ABS data


Question 2 - What are some of the unique challenges facing young people looking for work in 2018 and beyond?


The youth unemployment rate in SA is 13.2% and that translates to 19,600 young people currently looking for work. The number of entry-level jobs has also declined significantly since 2006 and youth unemployment has remained high since the GFC. 


Competition is fierce and the jobs that are available are increasingly casual and insecure. Previously young people could be assured of full-time or regular part-time employment with industry standard conditions but there’s been a decline in full- and part-time work since the 1980’s.

There are simply not enough jobs available for the number of people seeking work.

This has created an environment not seen before where young people - if they are lucky enough to get a job - will potentially face increasing financial exclusion ranging from being ineligible for housing and car loans to paying for food, shelter, health care and day to day expenses.


We know that increased competition for vacancies has contributed to the rise in youth and long-term unemployment. Statistics released in 2017 demonstrated that there is a staggering 7.5 jobseekers vying for every entry level job in SA.  Because of this intense competition for entry level jobs, inexperienced and marginalised job seekers are increasingly being overlooked in favour of more qualified applicants.


While lower skilled vacancies account for a substantial proportion of all job openings, almost half of those vacancies are not formally advertised.


Question 3 - What can young people do to address the issue?


Young people are not the problem – the lack of jobs for young people is the problem.


How we define systemic issues determines how we frame solutions. Public discourse that suggests young people are to blame for their unemployment leads to policies and systems that will not address youth unemployment.


If we blame young people for their unemployment, we begin to think that “fixing” young people will solve unemployment. The federal government has been especially good at creating a narrative that suggests young people are unemployed because they’re not trying hard enough and both the Coalition and Labor have used that as a foundation for policies that aim to increase the capacity of young people - but that doesn’t solve youth unemployment. If all the young people in SA that are unemployed increased their capacity, there still wouldn’t be enough jobs for everyone. The issue is the slow rate of economic growth.

We need to shift the debate, blame, and policy response surrounding youth unemployment from young people to the job market if we want to properly address youth unemployment.


Question 4 - What should the State Government consider to address the issue?


There is a supply issue in South Australia with 53,500 people looking for work and only 11,300 available jobs. 19,600 of South Australians out of work are young people 15 – 24.


We need to create more jobs and encourage employers to hire young people. There’s a shortage of entry-level positions and on-the-job training, and limited local opportunities. Investment in emerging and growth industries can be effective by creating entry level positions for young people to occupy and progress their careers. That sort of investment would require collaboration of government, private business, universities, community organisations, and consumers.


Incentive programs for employers to hire young people similar to those offered to employers to hire over 50’s would also be helpful.


Young people we’ve consulted have expressed a need for more effective and intensive career development and advice and an increase in flexible learning options to assist young people to remain engaged in education and training that is both relevant and appropriate. We also need to reshape education to emphasise transferable skills – courses designed for specific jobs will be less effective as the job market changes.


We’d like to see employers, schools, TAFE and universities working together to ensure meaningful work experience is available and training and skills development is linked to workforce demand, especially in areas of high youth unemployment.

So there's that. For more information, or if you have any questions, feel free to email us at, or leave us a comment below.

What do you think? What could/should be done? What are your questions, concerns, ideas or opinions?