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Monday, 16 November 2009
Page: 11762

Ms BIRD (8:50 PM) —On behalf of the Standing Committee on Education and Training, I present the committee’s report entitled Adolescent overload? Report of the inquiry into combining school and work: supporting successful youth transitions, together with the minutes of proceedings and evidence received by the committee.

Ordered that the report be made a parliamentary paper.

Ms BIRD —Australian secondary students are facing more pressure than ever as they attempt to excel in their studies, participate in sporting and recreational activities and maintain an active social life. For an increasing number of young people there is an added dimension which is placing further pressure on their lives—the part-time job.

The proportion of school students in employment has increased significantly in the past two decades. Today there are over 260,000 young Australians combining school and work. Despite the rise in student workers, the impact of competing demands on young people’s lives is not well known. The committee was therefore tasked with examining the impact of combined study and work on successful youth transition. Above all else, the fundamental purpose of schools is to provide an education for their students. This view was shared by many students who were adamant that it should not fall to schools to accommodate their part-time work commitments. Nevertheless, the inquiry confirmed that achieving the right balance can be highly problematic for some young people. There are, we found, considerable positive benefits for young people who combine school and work. Not only were those who found the right balance rewarded with a range of social and economic benefits but their chances of a successful transition into further education, training or work were also significantly enhanced.

However, the nature of part-time work for school students has changed significantly. Extended trading hours in the retail sector and late night trading in the fast food industry prevail today and contribute to students working not only longer hours but also later hours than ever before. Student workers can be susceptible to exploitative working conditions because their part-time jobs are often their first experience of the workforce and they lack awareness of their rights and obligations, including pay and conditions. The vulnerability of students in the workplace highlights the need for adequate protections and a shared community responsibility by parents, employers and schools to ensure that students are protected against working excessively long hours and often very late or, indeed, very early hours.

While students’ part-time jobs do not necessarily reflect their career aspirations, young workers acquire a range of generic skills from their jobs that they clearly see as beneficial to their future employment. For many students, the acquisition of these skills is not formally documented anywhere. In considering mechanisms for students to record their employability skills, we were cautious not to place too much burden on employers with respect to additional reporting requirements, which would particularly affect smaller businesses. Nonetheless, it is important that young people are provided with opportunities to attain formal recognition of the skills attained not only through their part-time jobs but through the full range of activities undertaken beyond the classroom, including paid and unpaid work, community or volunteer activities and sporting and recreational activities, particularly when it is recognised how important these experiences can be for them in attaining employment and further education. Senior secondary certificates have been revised to incorporate increasing flexibility to accommodate greater numbers of students who may not be suited to traditional schooling models.

The inquiry was also presented with a broad range of programs and initiatives at the state and local levels which seek to provide flexibility in assisting students to combine school and work, including targeted programs for students at risk of disengaging with their education.

It is important to acknowledge that not all young people have equal access to the opportunity of participating in part-time work. However, it is also important that we see the evidence of the role of part-time work in the successful transition of young people and that we have policies and programs in place to support that process.

I want to thank my committee colleagues and my deputy chair, the member for Tangney, Mr Dennis Jensen, who is in the chamber with us, for their work. I particularly want to thank the secretariat. I will very quickly acknowledge the secretary, Glenn Worthington, the inquiry secretary, Justin Baker, the senior research officer, Ray Knight, who is with us today, and the members of the committee for their work on this report. (Time expired)