THE share of Australians in their 20s who are not learning or earning has remained stubbornly high, failing to ease to pre-global financial crisis levels, a new report reveals.
But there are some positive signs among youth in their mid to late teens, with an increase in 15- to 19-year-olds involved in full-time education and training over the past three years.
And participation rates among indigenous teenagers are rising at twice the rate of the rest of the population.
The results are outlined in the latest evaluation of the National Partnership on Youth Attainment and Transitions, a $706 million program aiming to ensure young people are learning or earning.
The report says the share of 15- to 24-year-olds in full-time education or training rose from 69.5 per cent in 2009 to 73.4 per cent last year.
But a closer analysis shows the nation has lingering problems with the number of 20- to 24-year-olds who are struggling to find their feet.
In this age group, the proportion not fully engaged in education, training or work rose from 19.5 per cent in 2008 to 22.2 per cent in 2009, around the time of the financial crisis.
This figure has not yet returned to pre-crisis levels, remaining stubbornly high at 21.8 per cent in 2010 and 22.5 per cent in 2011.
The disengagement among those who had not completed year 12 was more than twice that of those who had done so.
The national partnership, launched in 2009, provides funding for several career development and youth training programs, including the Salvation Army's Oasis education centres in Sydney.
The education manager at Oasis, Victoria Oettel, said it was tough for people to find work when they had not completed year 12 and this could lead to ''self-loathing or despair''.
Australia's youth unemployment problem was ''a tough environment for young people who have been disengaged''.
''I think it's pretty clear that the older people get the more entrenched negative coping skills are and the less that's there for them,'' Ms Oettel said.
Ms Oettel said her job was to connect with youth who had negative impressions of school and it was sometimes a case of building their self-esteem through music, drama and art.
She said students may drop out of school because of bullying, mental illness or responsibility for caring for a sick family member.
''Basically we do the work that mainstream schools cannot do. We catch the kids that fall through the cracks,'' she said.
The Education Minister, Peter Garrett, said the federal government had invested $706 million over four years in the national partnership.
He believed the programs were helping young people finish school with the education and qualifications required to move into a successful career.
''Some of our young people need extra assistance to stop them dropping out and remain engaged in education,'' he said.
''That's why programs like this are essential to helping them realise their full potential.''
The rate of indigenous 15- to 19-year-olds participating in education rose to 61.6 per cent in 2011, up 4.8 percentage points in five years. This increase was nearly twice the rise seen among non-indigenous students, whose participation rate rose 2.5 per cent to 79.4 per cent.
The story Young adults still fare badly in earning and learning first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.