Youth education key to regional prosperity

First appearing in reports from the UK’s Office for National Statistics some two decades ago, the acronym NEET (not in education, employment or training) has become a key indicator for future generations’ ability - or inability - to maintain and improve their personal economic situation.

As the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) notes, young people who fall into the NEET category are at risk of becoming socially excluded and lacking the skills to turn things around.

In Australia, there’s work to be done. The OECD’s Society at a Glance 2016, A Spotlight on Youth report showed 11.8 per cent, or 580,000, of the country’s 15 to 29-year-olds fell into the NEET category. The statistics are in stark contrast to Iceland where only slightly more than 6 per cent of youth are considered NEET.

"Fewer young people in rural and remote areas participate in education, training or employment than those in our capital cities." -Isaac Rankin 

For indigenous young people living in regional and remote parts of Australia the challenge is even greater, with current NEET rates of 45 to 55 per cent.

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Click HERE to see an interactive version of this chart. Image: Tom Hounslow

The report also shows Australia’s NEETs have risen by 100,000 since 2008. This has hurt earnings by an equivalent of 1 per cent of Australia’s gross domestic product.

Drilling down

While the OECD snapshot doesn’t drill down to a regional level, the Australian Clearinghouse for Youth Studies - Engaging Young People In Regional, Rural And Remote Australia report shows fewer young people in rural and remote areas participate in education, training or employment than those in our capital cities.

Of particular concern is the disengagement of youth in education and training, with lower education levels a principal risk factor for NEET youth. Around 40 per cent of NEETs in Australia fail to obtain upper-secondary level qualifications.

Tackling these trends and supporting youth education and training will be paramount to building vibrant and sustainable regional communities for the future - especially at a time when many are facing a very different labour market compared with even just a few years ago with different skills needed.

Building vibrant communities

Regional Australia has recognised the need to engage and empower local youth. One example can be found in Mildura, Victoria, where the Northern Mallee Local Learning and Employment Network (NMLLEN) is working with local schools, government, community agencies and businesses  to improve education and transition outcomes for young people, including increasing Year 12 or equivalent attainment rates.

“Our local programs Flexible Learning Options (FLO) Connect and FLO in Schools are having a significant impact on keeping 160 young people each year engaged in education, training or employment,” NMLLEN Executive Officer Ron Broadhead said.

“Since commencing in 2012, engagement rates having risen to 86% for these young people who would typically have become another NEET statistic.”

For its part, ANZ partners with the FRRR to deliver the Seeds of Renewal program. Now in its 15th year, Seeds of Renewal has supported hundreds of community-based, grassroots programs and initiatives, many of which have left a lasting legacy and created countless opportunities for economic diversification, transition and prosperity.

One such program comes from the NSW Leeton-based SteppinOut4Youth. In 2015, the community group received a Seeds of Renewal grant to support their SteppinUp and SteppinOut Skills Connection program which actively engaged local youth at risk of disengagement from the education system and sought to provide them with the opportunity to develop fundamental life skills which would prepare them for employment.

Driven by a committed group from SteppinOut4Youth and volunteer mentors, the program has seen students actively engaged in their work experience whilst establishing a strong professional relationship with their mentors.

As a result of the program nearly all of the participants have gained further employment or opportunities to continue their placements.

“Strong, diverse and vibrant regional and rural communities have been a cornerstone of our nation for generations,” Foundation for Regional and Rural Renewal Chief Executive Officer Natalie Egleton says.

“Now, at a time when economies and society are changing at unprecedented speeds, putting in place the right plans and actions to encourage youth engagement will be integral to ensuring our regional communities continue to flourish.”

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Click HERE to see an interactive version of this chart. Image: Tom Hounslow

Sustainable

According to the OECD, young people with poor numeracy or literacy skills are twice as likely to be NEET as those with medium skills.

As we work to nurture and sustain the strong performance of critical national industries such as agriculture we should also ensure we have a strong focus on smaller and more isolated communities.

Without it, NEET levels will likely rise, undoing a lot of the progress as well as undermining the rate of regional Australian economic resurgence and rural liveability.

Isaac Rankin, General Manager, Regional Business Banking, ANZ

Applications for the 2017 Seeds of Renewal grants are now open. For more information or to apply, visit the FRRR website

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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