• Jobs & Services Australia

Stuck on the launchpad: How coronavirus is trapping our young people

The year had started so well for Amy Thomas. She had two jobs, a car and was living out of home. The future looked bright.

Instead, as for so many young people recently out of school or university, 2020 has been a year of disappointments. In March, she lost both her jobs in the week the coronavirus caused the economy to seize up.

Six months later, she’s moved out of her share house and in with her grandmother on the Bellarine Peninsula

“I’m falling into that same weird routine of not doing anything. I feel a bit trapped," she said last week.

Ms Thomas, 19, is not alone. She is among the 320,000 people aged between 15 to 24 whose jobs disappeared between March and May. While in other parts of Australia the recovery is under way, Victoria’s youth employment numbers are bumping along the bottom.

According to research by Dr Jenny Chesters from the University of Melbourne’s Youth Research Centre, being out of work at the beginning of their productive lives could have long-term consequences for young people. The damage to self esteem from years of rejection stayed with them. The main dos and don'ts as Melbourne struggles toward the end of COVID lockdown. And remember this is all dependent on the case numbers being right...

“How do you apply for 10 jobs even if there aren’t any?” Dr Chesters asked. “Being employed is not just about money, it’s about having a regular routine, of being socially connected, of contributing to your community.” When The Age first interviewed Amy Thomas in March she was hoping to stay living out of home and trying to stay optimistic.Six months later she’s on JobSeeker and lockdown means she has not seen her mother since June. "I love my grandma, she’s beautiful and I’m so grateful,” Ms Thomas said last week, her voice trailing away.

In the middle of the year she regained restaurant shifts as restrictions were eased. But the renewed spread of the virus meant her employer decided to shut again, saying a takeaway-only business was not viable. Ms Thomas was out of work again and said there was little prospect, for now at least, of getting a job.

“It’s actually a joke,” she says of searching for work. “There’s nothing out there and there’s so many people who are way more qualified than me as a 19-year-old.”

The longer it goes, the harder it is for her to stay positive as her plans are put on hold and her life – as for so many of us – is gripped by uncertainty. “It’s more for show trying to look for a job, for now.” Dr Chesters' research found that the wellbeing of Australians who entered the workforce during the mid 1970s downturn, when youth unemployment surged from 4 to 15 per cent, was still lower 40 years later than Australians born in the surrounding years. They also had higher suicide rates.

“We have to say we don’t want that to happen again,” Dr Chesters said. "Young people should try to stay as long as possible in education, if they could. Two years of a VET qualification or starting uni looks better than two years of unemployment.”

Dr Chesters said significant government intervention was needed in the job market to "provide employment opportunities for young people”. The pandemic has also caused havoc with the plans of Stuart McKenzie who owns two Collingwood cafes. At the start of the year he employed 27 people but can now only employ nine. He shut his Collingwood cafe, South of Johnston, in March and it is still not open six months later. “It’s not really viable to open that cafe unless we have 50 people or more,” he said.

“I have a fantastic landlady who gave me four months rent free. I’ve just used it [this time] as an opportunity to work on what the cafe needs to be next and spent the time renovating and cleaning.”

Mr McKenzie hopes to relaunch South of Johnston in December, and meanwhile, a smaller cafe he owns nearby, Oxford Larder, has been given a makeover and kept open as a takeaway business. He is not sure he’d have been able to keep even his smaller number of staff employed without the JobKeeper subsidy.

“I'd say I wouldn't have survived it without some financial help to see it through.” Despite the reduced trade, Mr McKenzie reckoned he was fortunate to be in the position he was in. He has watched other small businesses and cafes in the area shut for good, and he felt the pain of his staff in lockdown.

“All my staff would rather work,” he said. “I think they are finding it harder psychologically not working.”


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Originally published: https://www.theage.com.au

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