A little over a year ago I was invited to address the assembly at my somewhat nondescript old state school on the outskirts of Sydney. Given my academic achievement, it was an unusual invitation.

John Hartigan
John Hartigan

I figured the teaching staff must have wanted my input to modernise their truancy program.

To my astonishment the school instead wanted the students to hear my advice on career achievement. I was astonished because I was what educators of the time called a problem.

I was rebellious. I liked humour more than hard work. Put more simply, I was immature and foolish.

As it turned out, I was lucky – I got a second chance by getting a job in my chosen field of journalism and being trained on the job.

Across the assembly hall I could see many young men who were probably a bit like I was. However, sadly, many of them won’t get the lucky break I got.

Today many school leavers don’t get the luxury of that first ‘chance’ at a job. They are not just competing for jobs against people in their classroom, across the road, or anywhere in the state or across the country.

Ultimately they are competing in a global race for the best jobs. The lucky ones get the careers they cherish; others get the leftovers – or worse, no employment at all. Many of these young Australians are being consigned to a relatively new underclass, something we have not seen in really large numbers in affluent Australia.

However those numbers are rising.

Make no mistake: no skills, no job, no quality of life.

Today we are seeing youth unemployment figures that have reached crisis point. The My Chance, Our Future campaign launched today, February 2014, by the Brotherhood of St Laurence shines a light on an issue fundamental to the future of Australia. One that affects us all.

This isn’t just an issue of concern for the parents of these young people or the organisations who support young people trying to make a successful transition from school to further study and or work.

I commend the Brotherhood’s leadership role in publishing a monthly Youth Unemployment Monitor which will bring into sharp focus the issue and what we can be done to tackle it.

John Hartigan is the Former CEO News Limited (Australia).

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