We’re Amy and Laura, and we’re the lucky ones. At 27 and 22 respectively, neither of us has ever had to go particularly long without an income.

Amy Rhodes and Laura Sobels
Amy Rhodes and Laura Sobels

When we have, we’ve had support networks and family to help pick us up.

Today, we’re both employed, studying and determined to make a difference. Yet we’ve seen the detrimental effects large-scale youth unemployment can have on our friends, families and communities.

This year (2014) we were chosen to be among five young people to represent the youth of our nation at the Y20 – the official youth engagement group which links into the G20, the global forum for governments and central bank governors from twenty major world economies.

This opportunity has led us on an eye-opening journey across Australia.

We’ve met with young people from Australia’s large cities as well as regional and remote communities to hear their concerns.

It’s been obvious from the beginning that employment for young people is one of the biggest and most pressing challenges for our nation.

Several things are painfully apparent: young people really want to work – yes, they really do. Yet many are ill-equipped to search for jobs, while in areas with especially high youth unemployment, the jobs just aren’t there. Moreover, businesses are extremely averse to the ‘risk’ of hiring a young person because they’re either young or inexperienced, or often both.

The typical image of a young unemployed person in Australia is significantly changing. You may think of the image of an unemployed Gen-Y’er as that of the stereotypical ‘dole-bludger’ – that guy walking down the main street supposedly wasting your tax dollars and not bothering to apply for any jobs.

Time for a wake-up call. At the time of writing this, September 2014, Australia’s youth unemployment rate (those aged between 15 and 24 looking for work) is sitting at about 14 per cent – that’s more than twice the rate for all adults.

The reality of being unemployed in Australia is very different to several decades ago. Today, there are more university graduates looking for employment then there ever have been. Many young people can’t even get a foot in the door because everywhere they apply asks for experience – but what if nobody will give you the first chance you need?

Let us be clear – youth unemployment is not a ‘young people’ issue. It is a societal, generational issue.

To all the young people working with agencies like the Brotherhood of St. Laurence in their quest for a job break – congratulations on your ability to persevere even in the toughest of times. Your hard work deserves to be rewarded. Finally, to all the decision-makers out there – we implore you to listen.

Hear what young people have to say. We may be young but we won’t stay that way forever. What happens to our generation now will determine our nation’s future.

Amy Rhodes and Laura Sobels, Australian delegates to the Y20.

This column first appeared in the Brotherhood of St. Laurence’s Youth Unemployment Monitor September 2014.