In Australia, youth unemployment remains high and is consistently two to three times higher than the overall unemployment rate. One in five young people are actively looking for more work. This disparity is leading to a growing sense of inequality and disadvantage among young people, stemming from a lack of job opportunities and a broken career ladder. The need for innovative solutions to rebuild these career ladders has never been more pressing. 

This urgent issue was the focus of a recent presentation by Simon Crabb from Social Ventures Australia (SVA) at the Employment Related Services Association (ERSA) Employer Engagement Forum in April. 

SVA attracted philanthropic funding to establish Australia’s first ‘Employer Innovation Lab,’ adopting an innovative model designed and successfully implemented in the US by Talent Rewire. The Lab’s goal was to collaborate with employers to enhance employment pathways for young people, particularly in Western Sydney.

Simon said that SVA was seeking to help more employers create more higher quality jobs for young people at risk of exclusion. 

“There are many areas with higher levels of youth unemployment, youth disengagement, and increasing numbers of underemployment amongst young people,” he said. 

“They’re a group that has faced stagnating wages, fewer opportunities, and fewer pathways that include training and employment, which can create opportunities for social mobility.”

In addition to challenges faced by young people, many businesses are encountering systemic labour market issues, including significant labour and skill shortages, along with recruitment and retention challenges. 

The Lab involves four stages: a kick-off workshop to develop prototype initiatives addressing barriers, a small-scale pilot over 12 months, a try, test, and learn approach to ensure the pilot delivers, and scaling up for impact by sharing stories.

According to Simon, a key aspect of addressing youth unemployment is elevating young people’s voices. 

“In all of the work that we do, we make sure that we’re speaking with young people… what we’re really interested in is capturing and elevating what are young people’s experiences of work and what that might mean for a response from employers, policymakers, and practitioners,” he said.

SVA focused on providing an evidence base to demonstrate this project’s effectiveness. Capturing data and understanding its implications is key to the try, test and learn approach. According to a recent evaluation, employers overwhelmingly supported the Lab, saying it challenged their preconceived ideas and helped to improve recruitment and retention policies and practices. 

The evaluation found:

  • 85% of employers explicitly mentioned some form of practice change within their organisation
  • 100% found the tools, resources or examples provided by SVA useful
  • 100% gained a fuller understanding of the difficulties faced by young people and how they could better support them.

Simon shared a case study from global engineering firm Consep, which was experiencing challenges in attracting and retaining young talent. Consep introduced the ‘Young Starters’ program with guidance from the Employer Innovation Lab. 

“We worked with them to design a paid work experience program that gave young people the opportunity to try a range of different roles within the business with the hope of transitioning them onto traineeships and apprenticeships,” said Simon. 

Critical to the program’s success was understanding participants’ needs and providing them with support, mentoring, and training. It’s also essential to gain buy-in from across the company, breaking down some of the long-term attitudes. This led to ongoing employment for six of the ten trainees.

Reflecting on insights from this project, Prospert sees several key learnings for employment services providers:

  1. The importance of elevating the voices of lived experience from youth and other cohorts experiencing long-term barriers to employment to inform program design and improvements.
  2. More needs to be done to evaluate and measure the impact of programs beyond mere job placement. Read our social impact blog to learn more.
  3. Employers still lack awareness about key community services. Employment service providers must better communicate and engage with employers to increase their understanding of services, especially after job placement.
  4. Employment service providers must build their coaching skills to help employers identify and overcome barriers. The power of increasing employer knowledge and changing practices cannot be underestimated. 

Reach out to Prospert, if you’d like to discuss some practical measures you can implement to realise deeper engagement with employers. To learn more about the Employer Innovation Lab, visit: https://www.socialventures.com.au/programs-and-ventures/rebuilding-the-career-ladder/employer-innovation-lab/