Driving Change

The success of TRAC paved the way for the Forum’s focus on “Youth Transitions” for the following 10 years – as it highlighted critical school-to-work transition challenges in Australia. In 1997, the Forum’s senior researcher Richard Sweet approached seven leading researchers with an invite to join a collaborative study on young Australians.

The ask was to better understand how 15- to 19-year-olds learnt and worked, through researching and sharing data, insights and conclusions in a unique collaborative venture. The project was spurred by the 15% of young Australians aged 15 to 19 in 1996 – a massive 190,000 – who were neither in full-time work or education. Seventy per cent of these had not completed Year 12. The result was a landmark research report called Australia’s Youth: Reality and Risk. This created ongoing waves in the educational and political arenas. It drew on experiences of those in the field, and enabled advocacy to government policy makers. Reality and Risk paved the way for a second landmark report Australia’s Young Adults: The Deepening Divide in 1999, which focused on young people aged 20 to 24. Subsequently, an annual report titled How Young People are Faring was launched, ensuring the issues of transitioning from school to work were kept on the national policy agenda. As a result, the National Youth Commitment was developed, and a series of related reports (see below). The youth transitions work collated evidence to present a compelling case for change; it brought information to policymakers both in and out of government.

Reality and Risk and the Deepening Divide

“There was a genuine need for it,” the Forum’s former long-time consultant Eric Sodoti explained of the report. “No one had put the full picture together – young people’s skills, schools – no had had brought it together and created a comprehensive picture of what young people were facing.

Reality and Risk‘s seven research entities presented their preliminary findings to policymakers at Parliament House, Canberra, four months before publication in March 1998; the final report included responses from bodies in industry, labour reform and community.

The Forum’s senior researcher from 1998 to 2008, Dr John Spierings, entered the process when incumbent senior researcher Richard Sweet left to join the OECD in Paris.

“What Richard did was groundbreaking. He went to a number of different researchers, all working in related but discrete areas, and developed a common template of analysis. He physically brought them together, did a fantastic job in editing and making sense of the data, stories and contours of what was happening in education and work for Australian teenagers,” John said.

“Richard was also important in bringing an international perspective to the debate, benchmarking Australia against international best practice and providing insights into how other countries had responded to similar problems.”