NEW POLICY thinking and concerted action, led by the next Federal Government, is needed if Australia is to reduce the unacceptable number of Australians who are jobless or on the margins of the workforce at a time of record employment, according to a Business Council of Australia report.
More than a million Australians are able to work but can’t, due to barriers such as childcare impediments and employer perceptions on issues such as age or time out of the workforce, the report said.
“Australia’s long run of economic prosperity has created the conditions for lifting our participation rate to new highs so that more people can share in the benefits of a healthy economy,” said Charlie Lenegan, chairman of the council’s employment and participation taskforce.
“We need to think about Australia’s employment goals in terms of the participation rate, rather than just the unemployment rate, if we are to unlock the capacity of people who are currently prevented from joining the workforce.”
By focusing on unemployment rates, rather than employment and participation rates, he said business and government are inevitably setting limits on policy thinking, options and action.
“We must move beyond many of the assumptions that currently underpin employment policies and focus our attention on removing barriers to employment for the many Australians who are left out,” Lenegan said.
“Shifting our mindset on employment generation to a more aspirational approach will be a critical factor in meeting the challenges of an ageing population in years to come and better sharing the benefits of our continued prosperity.”
If new policies were adopted to encourage an additional 1 million people to join the workforce, he said Australia’s participation rate would rise to nearly 71 per cent.
The Business Council of Australia report was underscored by a joint Australian Industry Group and Dusseldorp Skills Forum paper, which revealed that more than one in 10, or 306,000, young Australians are either unemployed, want to work, or are underemployed.
Further, the report found that one in five young adults (aged 20–24) had not completed either Year 12 or its vocational equivalent (an AQF Certificate III qualification).
“It’s concerning that 20 per cent of young Australians do not have the basic educational attainments needed to cope adequately with the demands being made of them either in the workplace or in wider society,” said Heather Ridout, chief executives of the Australian Industry Group.
“The research shows that young people are optimistic and confident that they can manage the risks ahead. We owe it to this generation to give them the support they need so as not to sour that optimism.”
The report found that rates of school completion in Australia had barely shifted over the past 15 years. The Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs estimates that Year 12 completion in Australia in 2005 was 67 per cent.
And while commencement rates for apprenticeships and traineeships are relatively high, Ridout said completion rates are relatively low.
“We need targeted enhancements in existing schooling and training arrangements and better resources directed specifically at early school leavers and young adults,” she said.
Jack Dusseldorp, chairman of the Dusseldorp Skills Forum, said that while there has been recent improvement in key indicators of youth engagement in learning and work, the strong economy means “we have a golden opportunity to make the lasting education and training reforms needed to skill and engage all young Australians”.