News National Hey, Mr Hockey. It’s time to invest in young people
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Hey, Mr Hockey. It’s time to invest in young people

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Something vital to Australia’s future happened during budget week.

Amid all the talk of Tony’s Tradies and Johnny Depp’s dogs, there was a whisper about a plan for the future of our nation.

The Foundation for Young Australians has long been calling for politicians to start talking about the potential of young people to drive Australia’s economic and social progress. In the past week, we finally shifted a gear.

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Despite a total lack of focus on building the skills of the next generation, the Federal Government has started to acknowledge the need to support innovation, entrepreneurship and the startup sector. Just the fact these words were mentioned is a step forward in the national dialogue.

By Thursday, the Opposition had taken it up a notch with talk of startup investment funds, a focus on STEM education and teaching coding in schools to make the next generation more digitally literate.

It was an acknowledgement that the economy is shifting, and that our young people are the biggest opportunity we have for shoring up the nation’s future.

If you’re asking why we need this kind of investment, here’s your answer.

In 2002 two young tech entrepreneurs in Sydney, Scott Farquhar and Mike Cannon-Brookes, took out a small credit card loan to start a business.

Their idea was unconventional, an enterprise software company with no sales force, but they didn’t let that stop them.

Fast forward 13 years and we can see that it’s a good thing they didn’t. Their business, Atlassian, has grown to now employ over 1000 people in eight locations, generating $215 million in sales last year alone. Every year they donate one per cent of their profits to charity and contribute one per cent of their staff time to skilled volunteering. They are contributing to the social and economic prosperity of our nation.

Right across Australia, in our classrooms, our universities and our communities, you can find young people like Scott and Mike, who have the potential to turn ideas into enterprise, to create innovative, sustainable, profitable businesses that will drive economic and social progress in decades to come.

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Australia needs to invest more into young people. Photo: Shutterstock

But in order to do this we need to equip young people with the skills to be innovative and enterprising and create a pipeline of investment to get their ideas off the ground.

Twenty-thousand-dollar tax breaks for small business owners to buy new kitchen appliances and angle grinders may be a vote winner, but does it build the capacity of young entrepreneurs like Scott and Mike to get off the ground? And what about building the skills of a whole generation of young people to start them thinking about how to get there?

We know that Scott and Mike did it anyway, but let’s stop for a minute to think about those who didn’t. How much stronger would our economy be right now if we had more self-made and socially conscious companies like Atlassian operating on our shores?

At the Foundation for Young Australians we know that young people are Australia’s greatest resource – and we’re not alone.

The Reserve Bank has identified young people as the asset for Australia’s future – their entrepreneurial skills, innovation, and knowledge can drive our economy forward. But we have to back them to do so.

That’s why we need a national strategy to gear young people up to tap into opportunities in the decades ahead to drive solutions, build industries and create new employment opportunities, not just seek them.

International research indicates young people will have on average 13 different jobs across four different industries throughout their lives. The latest research from PwC indicates 44 per cent of current jobs are at risk from digital disruption.

Having one set of skills will not be enough for young people to navigate these changes, to take up new opportunities as they arise and to transition between industries as the economy shifts.

We need a new national focus on enterprise learning, to provide the 21st-century skills employers are looking for today and will increasingly be looking for in the years to come. We need investment to support young people to be innovative, creative and enterprising: to build their capacity through digital, financial and Asia literacy.

These are the skills that will prepare them for the future of work in our country and our region and will allow them to drive our nation forward.

In budget week, the nation started to have the conversation we have to have. Now it’s time to turn those words into action and back the next generation to lead the way.

Jan Owen is the CEO of the Foundation for Young Australians and a pioneer of the youth sector in Australia. She has dedicated most of her working life to social change and encouraging young people to give back and invest their talents in their communities and things they are passionate about.

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