CAIL Varker has been looking for work for almost a year.
The 19-year-old completed year 12 last year and went on to study building and construction at TAFE.
Cail said he got through it but didn't complete the course.
"It didn't agree with me... it didn't fit what I wanted to do," he said.
Being unemployed is never something Cail envisaged for himself, and it is taking a toll on his mental health.
But he is determined. He plans to just keep applying for work.
The Bendigo region has been identified as a youth unemployment 'hotspot', with 18.3 per cent of people aged 15 - 24 out of work in December 2018.
The region - which included Heathcote, Castlemaine, Boort and Wedderburn - ranked worst in Victoria and among the top five youth unemployment hotspots in Australia.
Bendigo's youth unemployment rate has since improved, but tackling the issue remains one of the city's highest priorities.
A committee of Bendigo leaders has identified improving the city's year 12 or equivalent educational attainment rate as a priority for economic development.
About 81 per cent of Greater Bendigo residents between the ages of 20-24 has completed year 12 or equivalent. The state average is 86.5 per cent.
"Of those students who failed to complete year 12, one in two are not in education and training compared with one in four of year 12 completers," an economic development strategy discussion paper stated.
"One in five were either looking for work or not in the labour force after six months compared with around three per cent of year 12 completers."
The report showed people who had completed year 12 were more likely to have completed a bachelor degree, and people who didn't complete year 12 were likely to have been doing an apprenticeship or traineeship.
Fewer people in Bendigo were inclined to progress directly to further study after school than the state average, and one in two students cited the need to move away from home to study as a reason for deferring courses.
Committee member and City of Greater Bendigo staffer Trevor Budge said the local government area also had a high rate of people under the age of 25 that had been unemployed for five or more years.
He estimated roughly 1000 people in Bendigo were in that situation.
"That's an exceptionally high number of people," Mr Budge said.
The jobactive caseload for people between the ages of 15-24 in the Bendigo region was 841 in August, representing about 17 per cent of the total caseload. The youth unemployment rate was 9.2 per cent.
The 'experience paradox' was a clear theme in responses to a survey of Bendigo Advertiser Instagram followers.
"Can't seem to get hired with no work experience and can't gain experience without being hired," one respondent said.
"Even entry-level jobs want months or years of experience," another said.
Some respondents raised concerns about the range of entry-level roles available within the city.
"The only available work consists mostly of retail and hospitality without mobility," one person said.
Some of the responses showed concerns remained about young people's expectations and motivations.
"They don't want to work... They don't want to start at the bottom or earn minimal. Over-entitled," a respondent said.
The local focus on youth employment comes as state and national entities seek to improve prospects for the next generation of workers, which will enter a workforce unlike that of its predecessors. A July presentation to young people about improving their chances of getting a job, earlier this year, made it clear: "Education alone is no longer enough".
Ivan Neville - a leading analyst from the Department of Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business - said employers also wanted work experience and demonstrated skills like motivation and reliability.
"Further education and training is essential," Mr Neville advised.
"Consider your interests and strengths, think carefully about the right courses and options for you... explore jobs and their requirements.
"Undertake work experience. Talk to teachers and career advisors. Don't be afraid to ask for help."
Bendigo School Student Survey and departmental data showed a quarter of year 10 - 12 students hadn't planned to do further studies after school - a path Mr Neville strongly encouraged they reconsider.
Most students were aiming to do further study or enter the workforce once they graduated. Some were considering taking a gap year.
Department of Education and Training data showed significant differences in outcomes for Victorian school leavers depending on their levels of education.
Three per cent of the 28,184 people surveyed in 2018 had completed year 12, was not in education and training, and was looking for work. Fifteen per cent of the 2386 respondents who had not completed year 12 were in a similar position.
Less than one per cent of the students who completed year 12 was disengaged from the labour force, education and training, compared with five per cent of the students who had not completed year 12.
More than half of the students who did not complete year 12 were engaged in education and training. Eleven per cent of the respondents were not doing further studies but were working full-time, and 16 per cent were working part-time.
The National Youth Commission into Youth Employment and Transitions sat for two days in Bendigo this year.
Senior researcher Dev Mukherjee said employers and employer groups said in their evidence that there were jobs available, but that young people within the region did not have the necessary skills or expertise to fill the positions.
In addition to what he termed the 'experience paradox,' young people were up against impressions in some instances that the qualifications they held might not be sufficient.
Transport was also identified as a major barrier for young people seeking employment in Bendigo, particularly those without a license.
"There's a lot happening to address the barriers," Mr Mukherjee said.
"No-one's sitting still on the issue."
But he observed that initiatives in would be more successful if people and organisations worked together.
"The overall impression is that it's everyone's problem an no-one's responsibility," Mr Mukherjee said.
The National Youth Commission aims to release its findings in the second half of 2020.
Bendigo leaders are also preparing for an upcoming hearing for the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into Sustainable Employment for Disadvantaged Jobseekers.
The inquiry is one of a number of state government initiatives with ties to youth employment, including career education reforms.
Understanding is key: Youth vision to unite Bendigo
BENDIGO'S youth council has a youth employment forum in its sights, with hopes bringing the community together to discuss the issue will help drive action.
Youth employability is one of the youth council's three key priorities, alongside youth engagement and youth wellbeing.
"A lot of people on youth council have personal ties and experiences in that area," youth council mayor Khayshie Tilak Ramesh said.
The youth council is focusing on employment opportunities and upskilling.
It is in the process of developing a position paper, which it is aiming to release at the end of the year.
"We really want to address a lot of these issues through forums," Ms Tilak Ramesh said.
"The best thing we can do is form an understanding between all parties in terms of what this issue is and what's the best way we can attack the issue and not the young people involved.
"It's us tackling the issue as a community because it is a community-wide issue."
She believed Bendigo was particularly well placed to address the issue as a community.
"We have a particular community conscience," she said.
Ms Tilak Ramesh said the community's ability to band together and attack an issue collectively was one of its strengths.
She said the youth council was working toward arranging a forum. In the meantime, it was lending experience to organisations already researching the issue.
"We're trying to build the case that this issue is a lot wider than it seems. It's not just unemployment, it's also underemployment," Ms Tilak Ramesh said.
"This is a much wider issue built in institutions and structures, which are quite difficult to change."
The youth mayor identified networking as an important factor in finding work.
"I think it's particularly hard, especially in rural areas because if you haven't grown up there from when you're little making networks is quite difficult," Ms Tilak Ramesh said.
"It's hard to find people willing to mentor and train you - a lot of employers expect you to be trained up right away."
She said there were gaps in understanding about fundamental changes occurring in the workforce.
"A lot has changed in this generation particularly," Ms Tilak-Ramesh said.
"A lot of entry-level jobs available way back then aren't there anymore."
She said those that remained demanded a higher skill set, compared with years prior.
Ms Tilak Ramesh identified a disparity between generations that could recall the simplicity of attaining an entry-level job, and those attempting to get such positions now.
She said part of the appeal of a forum was bringing people together and understanding both perspectives.
"Not seeing people as competing sides, but as complementary sides of an argument," Ms Tilak Ramesh said.
She identified a need for additional support during the transition points in young people's lives, including transitions between Grade 6 and Year 7 and from Year 10 to Year 11.
Ms Tilak Ramesh said Year 10 was a pressure point for many young people in Bendigo, especially those who had to transition to a different school.
The youth mayor said perceptions around the superiority of certain options, like whether to do VCE or VCAL and whether to remain in the region or leave to study or gain work experience, prevailed.
All of the above contributed to what Ms Tilak Ramesh said was a distorted perception of what was attainable for young people in a rapidly changing working environment.
She urged businesses to be mindful to be encouraging if a young person approached seeking work.
"It takes one good experience to encourage people," she said.
Bendigo Manufacturing Group's Mark Brennan said the group had been actively trying to encourage young people and their families to consider the opportunities available within the sector.
He said welders were in high demand.
"There are hundreds of welding jobs we can't fill because there's that lack of skill so we're encouraging youth to go and participate in those sorts of programs," Mr Brennan said.
A concerted focus on preparing students for work has seen one Bendigo school achieve its goal of seeing students graduate into either work or further study.
"We've got every year 12 student and potentially two year 11 students who are going to walk into work or further study next year where we'll have no-one who is leaking through the gaps," Kalianna School Bendigo careers coordinator Rob Brown said.
"That's your dream result - to have everyone engaged, everyone set up for success after school."
The school plans to integrate career education into its curriculum from an early age, giving students ample time to discover their strengths, opportunities and ambitions and develop their skills.
A careers expo is held mid-way through year 11 to give students time to consider their plans, and efforts are underway offer students opportunities to complete short courses through school from year 10 that will prepare them for the workforce.
Mr Brown said students were being offered more flexible work and study options, including increased on-the-job training and the opportunity to undertake work experience whenever best suited prospective hosts.
"For the majority of our students, they actually learn through the experience of doing," he said.
As long as they achieved their scholastic goals, Mr Brown said the more time students could spend out in the workforce, the better.
He said students at Kalianna were poised to collectively achieve about 5000 hours of work experience this year.
Mr Brown believed support from business and favourable staff ratios had been critical to Kalianna's careers program outcomes.
"We are fortunate," he said.
Progress in programs: Efforts to engage employers, workers
THE average school week is going to look a little different for 17-year-old Zahli Drummond this term.
The Bendigo Senior Secondary College Year 11 student will spend two days a week working as a trainee at Be.Bendigo, and three days at school.
She's taking part in a new state government initiative offered in 10 areas including Loddon Campaspe.
Head Start is intended to give students the opportunity to complete their secondary school qualifications while gaining more on-the-job experience.
It also aims to provide employers with apprentices and trainees with higher levels literacy and numeracy levels, who are more mature and work-ready.
Loddon Campaspe program director John Geary said Zahli was one of nine students starting work through Head Start.
Students were being lined up for about 24 more positions.
"Employers are really interested in the model," Mr Geary said.
The opportunity to put theory from VET business studies into practice made the program attractive to Zahli. A business subject had sparked her interest in the field.
"I really enjoyed it and thought it could be a career option," Zahli said.
She will enter the workforce with qualifications and experience upon successful completion of the program.
Be.Bendigo chief executive Dennis Bice said Head Start provided a great opportunity to get younger people involved and to learn about business.
"It's about creating opportunities. We're there to support that process," he said.
He was keenly aware many employers were seeking experienced job candidates, even for entry-level positions.
Mr Bice said he understood why businesses throughout Australia were keen to recruit skilled workers.
"Businesses are under pressure. They need to perform," he said.
But he recognised the benefits to investing in mentoring and training an employee.
"Yes, we'd all like experience but sometimes you need to take a bit of a punt," Mr Bice said.
He said there were businesses in Bendigo doing just that, and believed Head Start could encourage more to take the risk.
Goldfields Local Learning and Employment Network structured workplace learning coordinator Michael Hockley said the region's employers were very giving to young people.
He has arranged 367 work placements this year, engaging with 215 employers to find opportunities.
Mr Hockley is only able to arrange placements for VET and VCAL students that have been identified by their schools as being ready for placement.
He said many of the employers he worked with considered whether they would be able to provide a work placement experience that would be valuable to a young person before taking up the opportunity.
If ever a business refused an opportunity, Mr Hockley said it was usually because it was unable to accommodate placements at that time.
GLLEN executive officer Anne Brosnan said a drop in the availability of entry-level jobs was reflective of changes taking place in the world of work not just in Bendigo, but nationwide.
"Some of these entry-level jobs are still there, but there are fewer," she said.
Work was increasingly temporary rather than ongoing, and there was scope for young people to better direct career aspirations towards areas of jobs growth and demand.
"A lot of young men do building and construction and find there is a limited number of jobs," she said by way of example.
"The more we can engage young people with the world of work, the better."
The Passions and Pathways Program has been giving students from a number of primary schools in Bendigo an insight into the world of work since 2012.
Ms Brosnan expected it would expand to two more schools in 2020.
About 1000 students were estimated to have been involved in the program since it started, including 127 this year.
Passions and Pathways is funded until 2022.
The initiative aims to raise student aspirations about joining the world of work and what they can achieve.
It also seeks to promote an appreciation for the importance of education.
Entrenched socio-economic disadvantage was a factor affecting youth unemployment in Bendigo, the GLLEN experts said.
Barriers to employment for some young people in the community included the costs associated with learning to drive and buying and maintaining a vehicle.
Ms Brosnan said schools were doing their very best to provide students with experiences of the world of work and to engage them in available opportunities.
"Schools can't do it by themselves," she said.
Catherine McAuley College learning and teaching director Matthew Angove said more and more employers were asking for students to have finished year 12.
"There's a driving factor from society," he said.
He said the college was providing more opportunities for young people to prepare for work and complete their schooling, which students were taking up.
"For us the big challenge is the gap from school to university - the number of students who drop out at first year uni is a real challenge," Mr Angove said.
For more about Head Start, visit education.vic.gov.au/headstart
For more about Passions and Pathways, visit passionsandpathways.com.au
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