Speech to Young Labor Conference - Sydney

  • Minister for Employment Participation
  • Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Government Service Delivery

Speech to Young Labor Conference July 25, 2009 Vibe Hotel, Sydney

Seven months ago I when I spoke to you I talked about Generation Y being our future.

I said you were the best educated and technologically savvy generation of Australians ever – with more potential than any other generation.

I also said you were the most optimistic and positive generation ever.

I’m happy to say that after 12 months of the global recession that remains the case.

And that’s fantastic for the future of the country.

We should continue to aspire and dream.

I think new US President Barrack Obama coined the phrase for this generation when he said “Yes we can”.

But as a country and a global community we face some extremely difficult challenges.

There is a major issue now confronting Generation Y thanks to the global recession – youth unemployment.

When I left school in 1989 unemployment was more than 10 per cent.

It was difficult to even get a part-time job – let alone a full-time job.

People my age worried about what would happen when they finished school or university. In many professions there weren’t the jobs people had trained for.

Unemployment was one of the defining issues of Generation X.

During the past 10 years we’ve been through the mining boom. We’ve been through the property boom. Times were good.

People began to take employment for granted.

Job seekers had the upper hand.

But in the past year the global recession has completely changed the way we think about jobs and the economy.

The key focus of Kevin Rudd’s Economic Stimulus Plan has been about cushioning the blow of the financial crisis.

The sole intention has been to keep people employed.

  • When the stimulus package gets up to full steam in about 12 months, there will be around 35,000 individual construction projects around the country.
  • Our action is expected to support up to 210,000 jobs and thousands of small businesses.
  • 70% of the stimulus is infrastructure: road, rail, school construction, housing and energy efficiency.
  • The multiplier effect of these projects means that businesses and jobs are being supported across all communities – cafes, petrol station, small business, etc.

And while you’ll hear plenty of commentators talking about things starting to get better, there is still a long road to travel.

We’re in for a bumpy ride.

Volatility and uncertainty are the two words which best characterise the global economic environment.

There is absolutely no doubt that times are tough for people who are unemployed.

And things will get tougher – unemployment will continue to rise, until we see a major turnaround in the economies of our trading partners.

That’s why we all have a responsibility to do everything we possibly can to keep Australians in work.The Government is throwing everything at it.

And what we’re doing is working.

But we also need to adapt to the changing labour market.

We know from previous recessions that young people and casual workers are generally the first to feel the brunt of the downturn, followed by mature aged workers and the long-term unemployed.

And we’ve already seen it happen.

Employment among young people has fallen by almost 83,000 in the past nine months.

The youth unemployment rate sits at 12.3 per cent.

That’s because generally during the job shedding phase of an economic downturn employers first go for casual workers – a high proportion of them young casual workers – and then they adopt the “last on first off” principle – retrenching the least experienced workers.

And young men aged 20-24 have been the hardest hit.

What we don’t want to happen is what’s happened in previous recessions where we end up with a generation of unemployed people and intergenerational unemployment.

That would have a profound effect on our country and take almost a decade to address.

Look what’s happening overseas.

In Spain almost 34 per cent of people under the age of 24 are now out of work.

In the United States 14.7 million people are unemployed, with almost half a million people losing their jobs last month alone. The jobless rate in the States is climbing towards 10 per cent.

Treasury estimates that without the Government’s Stimulus, the number of long-term unemployed would on average be around 80,000 higher – making it harder for more people to rejoin the work force once the economy recovers.

That’s why we’ve acted quickly with the Stimulus Package – we don’t want things here to mirror what’s happening overseas.

And they don’t have to.

As I’ve travelled around the country in the past few weeks, employers and job agents are telling me that even in these tough times there is still some work out there.

We are still creating jobs and opportunities, particularly in sectors like aged care, child care, retail, construction and insulation.

For example, in May there were 15,300 more Australians employed in the retail sector than in November last year.

And there were an additional 10,000 construction jobs in May compared with three months earlier.

The insulation industry is saying 4000 jobs will be created during the next 12 months.

My concern is, however, that we are coming out of a period of relatively low unemployment where jobseekers have had greater choices about the jobs they want.

But things have changed.

We need to be adaptive and flexible in the way we look at employment.

Today’s job market is completely different.

12 months ago employers were struggling to find workers.

They were offering gym memberships and other incentives to keep workers … throwing everything but the kitchen sink at good staff to stop them from moving on.

But in a short time the job market has been turned on its head.

In tough economic times many people, especially new entrants to the job market with limited experience, have to adjust their thinking and be more adaptive and flexible.

Many workers have shifted their thinking. For example, just yesterday, I met some young men, working on a building site at Severn Hills.

Their ages ranged from 15 to 19 and they undertook pre-apprenticeships on a Government Stimulus project building social housing.

They were on the bus at 6am from Penrith for an hour to their work site so they could do a days work and put them on the path to a job.

And we need you to innovate. You’re the generation of innovation and creativity.

Here’s an example. On the Central Coast recently I met a young man, Craig, who finished his apprenticeship as builder but was laid off because his boss didn’t have enough work.

He came to our jobs forum and asked me what he should do... he couldn’t find work.

I spoke to him about the Government’s insulation program and the opportunities it presented.

I’m happy to say that he was willing to be innovative and change his original idea of where his career was heading.

Craig set up his own business and door-knocked homes.

He’s now got so much work he’s employed his girlfriend to help him run the business and is looking to employ more staff.

That’s what I mean when I say we need to be adaptive and flexible.

I think it’s up to all of us to help new jobseekers adjust to the current times.

Parents, and job service providers and career guidance counsellors.

I’m not saying we should tell young people not to dream and strive and have ambition.

Society thrives on that.

What I do believe is that jobseekers need to look for their dream jobs and while they’re doing that realise that in the current climate that may take some time and there are often other options while they work towards that.

They need to be adaptive flexible and employers need to follow suit.

We have to look at innovative ways to combat youth unemployment.

The Government’s $41 million Innovation Fund is designed to empower organisations to think outside the square to help some of the most disadvantaged and long-term unemployed to find new ways back into the workforce.

I am a big supporter of work experience and social enterprise programs – like those being run by Mission Australia and Boystown.

And the Government’s Compact with Young Australians aims to support young people to get back to work, add to their skills, or learn the new skills required to get jobs.

In its Compact with Young Australians, the Government will:

  • guarantee an education or training place for every young person under the age of 25 years who wishes to up-skill;
  • require participation in school, training or work for anyone under the age of 17 years; and
  • bring forward to 2015 the COAG goal to lift the national Year 12 or equivalent attainment level to 90 per cent.

Today I’ve told you we have to be more adaptive and flexible as job seekers, not just young people – that’s across the board.

All of us have benefitted from the once in a lifetime mining boom.But unemployment doesn’t just affect one section of the community. It affects all of us.

Earlier I was talking about the positive multiplier effects of the stimulus.

There is an extremely negative multiplier with unemployment.

There is a ripple effect with every person who becomes unemployed.

And it can lead to serious social issues – depression, social isolation, drug abuse and crime and anti-social behaviour.

Not having a job affects people’s self esteem. It affects their family.

Just a week into my job as Employment Participation Minister I heard a story which reminded me of just how important having a job is, and as a consequence how important my new job is.

You might remember the story of the man who allegedly held police at bay for eight hours with a pistol in a McDonald’s store on the mid-north coast.

He’d reportedly been a quiet man with no criminal history, but had recently been retrenched.

His family told of his devastation at losing his job and that he’d been unable to come to terms with it.

That’s why I believe so passionately that we have to do everything we can to keep people in jobs and help those who haven’t broken into the job market to do so.

That’s what being in the Labor Party is about. Making a difference and helping those who need a hand up.

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