Opinion | Self-driven mindset ​best skill for young job-seekers

ONE LIFE, MANY JOBS: Youth have a "complex pathway to a complex working life".
ONE LIFE, MANY JOBS: Youth have a "complex pathway to a complex working life".

As youth unemployment in the Hunter continues to be double that of the general population, there’s an important debate to have about the skills our young people need to have well-paying and satisfying careers.

An element missing from the debate is the importance of entrepreneurial skills as well as self-employment as a career option for young people.

Working life is certainly different for the young people of our region than it was for those leaving school in previous decades. Our youth have a complex pathway to a complex working life. Many parents and grandparents reading this will have had a one-dimensional work life, often staying in the same industry. Today’s young people will average 17 different jobs over five careers.

We can’t tell them to do what we did.

With good intentions, we became focused on our kids getting a degree. Having more kids with tertiary qualifications can help them get higher paid jobs. But it isn’t that simple. Just sending kids to university isn’t a catch-all solution, particularly if the degree is not something they are passionate about or interested in.

Research by the National Institute of Labour Studies at Flinders University shows that between 2008-2014 the proportion of new university graduates in full-time employment dropped from 56.4 per cent to 41.7 per cent. A young person, on average, doesn’t leave home until they are 24 and it takes them 4.7 years to get a full-time job after they graduate. 

Regardless of which educational path our kids take, organisations are demanding entrepreneurial skills, both mindset and behavioural. Many local employers tell me our kids are missing practical, job-ready skills, including skills in time management, relationship building and communication, emotional intelligence, problem solving as well as taking ownership and initiative.

I attended the Future of Youth Employment Forum in Sydney last month. The conference reinforced that we need to help young people develop an entrepreneurial mindset. Someone with this mindset has initiative and self-drive, takes calculated risks, is flexible, adaptable, creative and innovative. They aren’t just critical thinkers, but problem solvers.

The mindset is also crucial for those unemployed and underemployed kids for whom neither vocational or tertiary study seem to work. There are three key ways to develop this mindset.

Review our curriculum and teaching methods. Our schools have a strong emphasis on meeting Naplan standards at the expense of entrepreneurship. Let’s introduce entrepreneurial skills in primary school by teaching children about enterprise and money. 

Start working together to develop sustainable paths to youth employment - schools, TAFE, universities, industry, government, support services, parents need to step up. There are a number of good individual programs around but they are piecemeal and work in isolation.

We need to change the conversation about what a successful career looks like and support young people to take risks. That includes young people starting their own businesses. There is support plus technology is making it easier for young people to turn a passion or an idea into an employment opportunity.

Cheryl Royle is the Australian Government’s entrepreneurship facilitator in the Hunter and runs business consultancy The Finer Line.