The federal government is set to axe a $50 million a year service that has steered thousands of at -risk young people into jobs and work experience, including with top companies NAB, Qantas and Woolworths.
Six hundred businesses, schools and charities have written to Prime Minister Tony Abbott calling for the employment brokering network Partnership Brokers not to be scrapped.
The organisation fears its funding is to cease in favour of the Coalition’s election pledge promising cash handouts to unemployed people under 30 who find and keep a job for more than 12 months.
The network’s executive officer Craig Dadds said the organisation had been told “categorically” that May’s federal budget would result in the program’s funding ceasing at the end of the year.
He lashed out at the government, which he said had promised to act on Australia’s high rate of youth unemployment but failed to propose an alternative plan for connecting vulnerable young people with employers and training.
“The result is there will be nothing effective in this space,” Mr Dadds said.
Axing of the scheme, designed under the Howard government and implemented by the previous Labor government, will result in 450 workers losing their jobs and 87 NGOs that administer the service in communities around Australia either close or severely cut their services.
Following a COAG deal, Partnership Brokers was launched in 2010 to broker agreements between employers, charities and schools to direct young people at risk of long term unemployment into work, education, training and work experience.
The network works with 22 of the top 50 ASX companies and has nearly 1200 schools on its books.
The service reports that it has assisted 350,000 young people in the past year, among them teens from some of Australia’s most disadvantaged regional and indigenous communities.
A spokesman for Senator Scott Ryan, the parliamentary secretary for education, said the previous Labor government had not funded the service beyond 2014 and any further cash injections were still the subject of budget talks.
But Partnership Brokers chair Carmen Auer said the silence from the government was “deafening” after 600 organisations, local councils, business chambers and companies such as Yamaha Motor Australia signed a letter to Mr Abbott calling for the service to be kept.
“At this stage in this whole space in school-to-work transitions there hasn’t been a commitment,” she said.
It comes at a time when youth unemployment figures in some Australian cities such as Cairns have reached crisis levels above 20 per cent.
Mr Dadds said the service had been able to bridge a “chasm” between businesses and schools “but there is still so much work to be done.”
“The irony is that the Liberal Government promised to empower local communities and cut red tape,” Mr Dadds said.
“Our program does these two things very well.”
During last year’s election campaign, the Coalition named youth unemployment as a priority and pledged thousands of dollars in handouts for people under 30 who moved off welfare and into work.
Senator Ryan’s spokesman said the 2015 round of Jobs Services Australia, the government’s service for job seekers and employers, “will effectively address the needs of young Australians seeking employment.”
He said young people were best supported “by a quality education” and the government was focused on providing this through “a robust national curriculum, improved quality of teaching” and a greater say for teachers and principals about how schools are run.