'Simply not enough jobs' for Illawarra youth

MERCURY SERIES - Summer Study

Although unemployed youth in the Illawarra are often described as "passive dole-bludgers", social researcher Dr Scott Burrows says they most actively look for work.

They internalised disappointment and struggle to either become employed or move on from part-time and casual work, he said.

There was too much focus on education and training - the supply side, he said, based on his University of Wollongong PhD research on youth employment in the region.

"But the main issue in the Illawarra is the demand side; there are simply not enough jobs being created in the economy," he said.

"Other people's experiences of unemployment are not as profound or protracted as young people, 15 to 24 years of age.

"We've got to pick up the tab of the dysfunctionality of people being out of work for so long.

"There were kids that I spoke to who were not engaged . . . they've come from families where mum and dad have not had a job, or dad worked in the steelworks in the 1980s and has never found a job since."

Tackling mental health, drug and alcohol issues was important but would not solve the issue, he said. "My argument is that people develop all these problems because they're out of a job, not the other way around," he said.

While gathering evidence, the researcher interviewed 20 students, 20 professionals and conducted two focus groups with students, then professionals.

His thesis' final chapter suggested job-creation schemes, including expanding government subsidies to businesses to employ youth and greater funding of apprenticeship programs. Neo-liberalism - a free-market philosophy - worked well for Australia in general, but was failing in the Illawarra region.

This stemmed from the Illawarra's transition from steel manufacturing and coalmining to a service-based economy, he said.

Before starting a PhD in 2009, Mr Burrows worked in the Department of Family and Community Services while completing an arts degree and honours.

His decision to study youth employment in the region was spurred by his work with the Illawarra Regional Information Service where he led a major study on the issue.

Summer Study is a Mercury series on cutting-edge PhD projects at the UOW.

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