Jarrod Miles is one of the lucky ones. The former Lake Illawarra High School student dropped out before year 10 and, until recently, struggled to find work.
But three months ago, with help from Mission Australia, the 20-year-old landed a job as a kitchen hand, and he says he would some day like to be a chef.
"It's a bonus to be working," he said. "I don't want to be sitting around all day twiddling my thumbs waiting for the next handout to come along."
Mr Miles is lucky, because Australian Bureau of Statistics data released on Thursday shows the Illawarra is in the grip of a youth unemployment epidemic, with 17 per cent of young job seekers unable to find work.
The figure is almost three times the average unemployment rate of 6 per cent, and much higher than the NSW youth unemployment rate of 11.8 per cent.
Across the state, only the Parramatta area recorded a higher youth unemployment rate - 17.2 per cent - and the rate is on par with the whole of Tasmania.
Mission Australia Illawarra area manager Tonya Hughes said it was up to state and federal governments to do more to create job opportunities for young people in the region.
She said the Illawarra risked losing an entire generation to unemployment.
"The longer they languish on welfare, the harder it will become for them to break into the workforce," she said.
"This ultimately sets them up for a cycle of unemployment and poverty over their lifetime.
"The issue demands attention and investment from all levels of government to assist local young people in the transition from school to the workforce or higher education or training."
Mr Miles said most employers were not interested in hiring someone with little experience.
"[Job seeking] is almost laborious, because you've got to fully commit to it - most people aren't interested if you haven't done all your schooling and haven't got what you need on your resume," he said.
"It really does suck after you've been at it for a while."
He said life had improved since he landed the job.
"At first, it was a little stressful; it was a culture shock," Mr Miles said.
"Now I've had time to adjust, it's great.
"I don't want to be doing anything else."