Australia is struggling with high rates of youth unemployment, particularly in regional areas. Early school leavers are finding jobs increasingly hard to come by, as they are overlooked by employers wanting candidates with more experience. While there is an obvious financial impact on early school leavers who are unable to find work, there is a far greater, and often underestimated, impact – social isolation.
Social isolation is best described as the absence of social relationships. It can mean staying home for days, not talking to friends or family, and generally avoiding contact with other people. If contact is made, it is likely to be superficial and brief.
The negative effects of social isolation build over time, and often exacerbate existing issues, such as feelings of loneliness, shame or low self-worth. Social isolation can be both a cause and a symptom of serious mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety or agoraphobia, and can even put people at higher risk of coronary heart disease.
"The negative effects of social isolation build over time, and often exacerbate existing issues, such as feelings of loneliness, shame or low self-worth."
Early school leavers are susceptible to social isolation for a number of reasons:
- They no longer have the same access to their school-based networks of friends
- They are often at the mercy of limited transport options (particularly in rural areas) and/or lack access to a vehicle or do not hold a driver’s licence
- They may have significant carer responsibilities that require them to remain in the home (for example young children, elderly parents)
- They may have been bullied while in school, impacting on their confidence and self-esteem
- They may be suffering from a feeling of failure, because they did not complete their study
Compound these risk factors with the added experience of most early school leavers – that of being rejected by employers – and young people face an uphill battle to retain confidence and a positive outlook on life.
And the longer the isolation goes on, the harder it is to break the cycle. According to a UK study conducted by The Prince’s Trust*, almost half of unemployed young people say they ‘often’ or ‘always’ feel down or depressed. The report highlighted the cyclical impact of social isolation and associated mental health issues like depression and anxiety on young unemployed people’s ability to find work. “Without the right support, these young people become socially isolated - struggling with day-to-day life and slipping further and further from the jobs market,” said Martina Milburn, CEO of The Prince’s Trust.
"...almost half of unemployed young people say they ‘often’ or ‘always’ feel down or depressed."
This is why it is so important that employment services targeted at young unemployed people focus not just on the job search, but also the psychological aspects of the candidate’s journey. CoAct, through its network of members, is delivering a service that does just that, combining vocational and non-vocational supports to help early school leavers struggling to find work. This program is called Transition to Work (TtW).
Rather than view the jobseeker in isolation of their personal circumstances and historical barriers, CoAct members connect jobseekers with complementary supports that address these factors, such as mental health services, drug and alcohol programs, housing organisations, parenting supports and numerous other forms of assistance.
“Through non-judgemental, collaborative supports, we lower the risk factors for long-term unemployment and socio-economic disadvantage, and bolster the actors that protect individuals: confidence, resilience, connectedness, skills, training, self-worth, experience and persistence,” explains Youth Projects Executive Manager Employment Services.
This view is backed up by fellow CoAct member, IMPACT. “TtW provides the opportunity for profound client servicing, preventing many potential barriers from escalating and reduces the risk of a pattern of disengagement and isolation,” says TtW Team Leader, Laura Bray.
The Personnel Group’s CEO, Tracey Fraser, says the organisation is excited to be able to help people who are often the most disadvantaged, because employers view them as ‘too risky’. “In the first few months we have had over 200 young people in the TtW program, either developing skills, working or addressing other barriers to help them be work ready. And we’re ready to support even more!”
If you know someone who could benefit from participating in the Transition to Work program, visit coact.org.au to find out more.