By Jenny Gleeson

The Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) states that “Young people are amongst those most at risk of being left behind in the changing world of work”. Currently 12% of young people across Australia, aged between 15-24 are unemployed.

I started in Career Development when I was 27 years of age. I then transitioned into working for a Job Search Provider who was linked to Centrelink with unemployed recipients checking in once a fortnight. Not long into the role I was identified as being able to work well with our most troubled clients, including those in the age bracket mentioned above.

Unfortunately, within a year of working in this role, one of my young clients committed suicide. This tragic event was not new to me. I had had four friends, all aged 21, within six months also commit suicide. What they had in common was a sense of feeling lost, unimportant, anxious about the future and a whole multitude of other feelings known only to them.

These tragedies potentially could have been avoided. This experience inspired me to redirect my career into Career Coaching with a hope that I could impart invaluable skills, advice and confidence into vulnerable young people when they need it most.

There was a time where career development was on the national political agenda but, like most things, we see a rise and fall in interest and funding. However, career coaching remains critical not only for individuals but for the economy. For instance –

Research shows that people not in full-time work or study by age 24 and who continue in this way over a 40-year period, produce a cost impact on society of around $412,000 per person. The total fiscal and social cost of a lifetime of disengagement is $69.3 billion”.

In 2018, the South West and Peel was ranked tenth highest in Australia for youth unemployment with 21.6 per cent of people aged 15 to 24 years unable to find a job. Even though the state government is taking action by investing into job creation infrastructure, increased and improved efforts at the school level is the best way to mitigate youth unemployment.

In my career I’ve observed school counsellors provide career advice that was limited, over cautious, lacked effort and even gendered bias. Comments from youth on the FYA website supports the call for a shake-up in the current school career counselling programs. Such as “I think high school careers counsellors need to be abolished and external advisors brought in” and “careers education in schools are extremely dated”.

That is why I am honoured to be delivering the second year of The Career Start Program for three schools in the Bunbury region.  What started as a six-month pilot program through the Western Australian Department of Education, extended into another six months and has now been funded for a further 12 months with schools on a waiting list. I am an external advisor and not linked to any one school and have no vested interests in their education outcomes.

The students that I typically work with under my program are in Year 10 to 12 and have failed to achieve constructive career direction and/or have positive experiences from their career school counsellors. Truancy, disruptive behaviour, poor grades, suspected alcohol and drug misuse and/or trauma – these are the students I get, and I love them.

The anticipated success rate for this program was 25%. Within four months, the success rate was 75%. Teachers, youth workers, parents and guardians have asked me what my secret is…

It’s taking time and listening in a non-judgmental way.

It’s that simple. I do not look into their records or listen to the information provided to me prior to meeting them. Instead, I spend time with them and get to know them as an individual. Once you know a young person without all the labels and expectations then, and only then, can career coaching begin. A young person will not disclose aspirations and dreams unless they trust you, as they fear being laughed at or told their ideas are beyond their capability.

The social and economic cost of youth unemployment is significant. Australia needs increased investment and resources into career development. Not just learning how to write a resume but in-depth career coaching from looking at emotional intelligence, personality types, behaviours, motivations, strengths and areas of passion.

Invest in this type of career coaching and young people will thrive, rather than shirking away from that difficult and loaded question, ‘What are you going to do when you grow up?’


Jenny Gleeson, Director of Lifeworx, is a National Award-Winning Career Coach and author of ‘Personalities in the Classroom’. She is also the creator of the workshop series LIFEWORX4ME and CAREERSWORX4ME.