COVID-19 and Disadvantaged Young People’s Education and Employment Aspirations: A Longitudinal Study of Young People’s Transitions in Geelong.
The Young People’s Sustainable Futures Lab is delivering a 3 year project which provides Geelong region stakeholders with an evidence base to foster the education and employment aspirations of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in the wake of a COVID-19 youth labour market crisis. This evidence is contributing to regional, state, national and international debates about the challenges and opportunities that emerge for young people’s education, training and employment pathways at the convergence of the 6th Mass Extinction and the 4th Industrial Revolution – the convergence ‘between an advanced knowledge economy, which perpetuates patterns of discrimination and exclusion, and the threat of climate change devastation for both human and non-human entities’ (Braidotti 2019).
One of the ways in which we are doing this is by conducting video interviews with a diverse group of young people in Geelong, including many young people who can be identified as marginalised, disengaged or living with historical disadvantage – although what this means, or what the consequences of this might be, cannot be assumed to be either uniform or known in advance.
This is the second in a series of three blogs in which we feature the stories of Daisy and Elijah, and develop an analysis of what these stories provoke us to think about, and how the stories can make a productive contribution about the COVID-19 pandemic and the challenges for young people of ‘living well’ in the Anthropocene.
In 2021, Elijah was 18 years old and living with his mother in Curlewis, a rural locality on the outskirts of Geelong. Elijah connected with the project through a youth service provider which supports young people to develop skills for, and to find, employment. He was enrolled in a Certificate III in Information Technology at the Gordon College of Technical and Further Education (TAFE), and suggested that he was interested in studying an Advanced Diploma of Information Technology (Telecommunications Network Engineering) in 2022. At that time, Elijah was employed casually ‘up at the shops’, and was also developing his own online business as a graphic designer.
In the midst of the public health lockdowns when we spoke with him, Elijah described his life and his connections to others, as ‘pretty grim’:
My social life over the last two years has gone completely down the drain.
Right before the first outbreaks at least I was still going to parties and still talking to people like regularly.
These days, I reckon I might talk to like three or four people a week, on Facebook Messenger, like not even phone calls.
And I’ll have maybe one night that I’ll talk on the phone, like an actual phone call or a video chat.
The series of public health lockdowns not only affected Elijah’s capacity to care about his social life, but also affected the character and the quality of his relationships with his friends.
It really did kind of demolish my social life and a lot of my mates’ social lives, that I don’t even talk to anymore.
I haven’t heard from a lot of them, to be honest.
And I think a lot of people are kind of in that boat where, you know, I was kind of a hermit before, but now it’s like, ‘What’s the point in even having a shower every day?’
Like, there’s no point if you’re not going outside, you’re not seeing people, you don’t care, then what’s the point?
In his reflections Elijah acknowledged the challenges that those around him, including his teachers, had faced during this time.
In the same kind of way, I think, a lot of the teachers were feeling near the end of the course.
It even seemed like they were becoming demotivated and by the time you were kind of in the fourth week of the course and you’re already giving up units, and you know, you’re going to fail, it just doesn’t, it really didn’t help.
Just the general disorganised, kind of mess that it was, it was really, it wasn’t very fun. It was quite demotivating.
This process of ‘demotivation’ took various forms including in the ways in which the course requirements exceeded the capabilities of the technology that he had access to away from the classroom:
I know one of the practicals I had to do, I had to run two virtual machines and my computer was really having a rough time with that, because it’s not that it’s an older motherboard, it’s just not meant to do it.
It was kind of demotivating for everyone I think and considering we had two classes of roughly 20-25 students and finally, I think eight people passed.
Like that’s pretty low pass rate, and even the teachers were kind of like what’s going on, you know?
In spite of these difficulties, there was a sense for Elijah that there was a temporal dimension to to the challenges, a dimension that offered the promise that demotivation might be temporary, might be time limited:
I’m now continuing to do the course for the next six months.
I will definitely pass, I don’t have a doubt in my mind about that.
In this sense, Elijah indicated that he was:
optimistic for the future considering now that I’m on my way to an advanced diploma.
In listening to Elijah talking about these concerns, it became apparent that he responded to the pandemic, the public health measures in provoked, and the government financial support systems that were put in place, both as a set of challenges and as a series of opportunities:
It gives a lot of people time to actually do things they want to do, and which they enjoy.
I definitely did as well.
Especially with the payments at the start of the first lockdown, with Centrelink.
People had a lot more money, especially in Melbourne, and didn’t have many places to spend it.
Like many others during this period, Elijah identified a business opportunity that emerged at the temporal and spatial intersections of the pandemic, lockdowns, government income support schemes, the affordances of digital technologies, and personal capabilities:
So they went online and, you know. I run an online business and I freelance.
I do design for clients, businesses, and pretty much anyone and, you know, the orders definitely went up when the money was around.
There weren’t many places to spend it.
There was a lot, a lot more traction and like, obviously to grow my business, and continue to keep it growing and yeah, just being financially stable at the moment, that’s kind of one of my main goals at the moment.
In this context, Elijah also saw the development of ‘generalised life skills’ as a key element in enabling people to ‘enjoy their lives more’. For Elijah these skills were developed in his vocational training certificate, even if he may not have seen the value of these prior to the pandemic:
I think learning those practical skills like, applying for an ABN or like, you know, literally just accounting, like how to use Excel to account.
Like how to keep up stock and those kinds of more critical things.
Which is one thing I didn’t mind about this course, was that even those extremely generalised life skills that you know, even if you’re not going to use them in the IT field.
Learning those more generalised life skills should be a much bigger focus now considering, you know, with more working from home and kind of having to manage your own time.
Developing a sense that the building of seemingly mundane ‘skills’ – connected in this case to the opening of unanticipated opportunities – could have ‘benefits’ in terms of ‘motivation’ appears, also, to be an new form of understanding that emerges from these intersections:
I think not being able to socialise as much, at least being able to own a skill or trade or something that you want to kind of improve in – it’s really important because otherwise you will become demotivated.
Like a lot of, a lot of friends at the moment, they hate their jobs and you know, they can’t stand working in a trade and they can’t leave either. They don’t have anything else.
Elijah’s aspirations for the future included to become financially independent by renting his own place (moving out of his family home) but also in the process to care for his mum:
Hopefully in the next two to four years I’ll be able to move out of here and, you know, rent a place. But at the same time, honestly, supporting my mum and all that, at the moment, is more key than doing that – I don’t really feel the need to at the moment.