Youth faces an uncertain future – it always has in one way or another. The progression from parental dependency to self-sufficiency and independence has always been (and will continue to be) a difficult one. The stresses of successfully completing high school are compounded by peer pressure, personal and family relationship problems, and the natural problems inherent in being an adolescent. As well, today, moreso than in yesteryear, there is an ever-present temptation to turn to drugs and alcohol, either as an escape route, or in order to cope with it all. Doing well at school does not guarantee a future career path, even if the correct choices are known and made. "Starting at the bottom" no longer means that you will get to the top one day. Today, people in their 40s and 50s are being made redundant from positions they once justifiably regarded as being secure until retirement. And competition is strong. Each year it becomes stronger – each year thousands more students join the ranks of the unemployed, and long term unemployment, especially amongst youth, is a real problem. The Government’s "Work for the Dole" Scheme is a much-needed positive step that is helping youth make the transition from student, to unemployed, to employee. Each year 25,000 places in the Scheme are available, 20,000 of which are set aside for young people.
Under the Scheme, unemployed people perform work (from 12 to 15 hours per week) in return for their fortnightly unemployment benefit. Participation is for a maximum of six months for people unemployed for a period of more than six months. People aged 17 to 21 are required to work for two six-hour days per week, and people aged 21 and over are required to work for 21/2 six-hour days per week. An extra $10 per week is paid to the participant to allow for extra costs incurred relating to transportation, and child minding facilities are available if necessary. Time off from the scheme can be arranged for attendance at interviews for paid employment. In order to reach those most in need of assistance, participation in the Scheme is compulsory. This is necessary so that the chances of success can be maximised to provide the most benefit to participants.
It may be of concern to some that the compulsory nature of the Scheme undermines the altruism inherent in volunteer work. Some may fear that it will lead to resentment, lack of cooperation and poor motivation by those forced to take part under threat of diminished or no social security payment. If the Scheme were voluntary, however, no doubt only those already possessing a healthy self esteem would volunteer. Those people most in need of assistance, the long term unemployed, those with severe lack of motivation and low self esteem from receiving numerous rejections, would be unlikely to volunteer. The compulsory nature of the Scheme is therefore a crucial factor in its effectiveness as an antidote to long term unemployment. Participants enjoy increased self esteem, confidence and motivation. By earning their benefit they can certainly no longer be labelled as "dole bludgers". Participants have an opportunity to contribute to and be involved with the community rather than be isolated from it.
Participants in the scheme are also being given an opportunity to develop new skills. Training is provided in essential workplace safety issues and procedures, and in any skills required to do the project work. Participants learn how to work as part of a team, cooperatively with a supervisor and independently, developing a work ethic and a positive attitude. Often important skills become rusty in between periods of employment and the Work for the Dole Scheme is an opportunity to maintain these skills and abilities. The Scheme could also be seen as an opportunity to change direction. Projects offered involve heritage, history, the environment, community care, tourism, sport, provision of community services, and restoration and maintenance of community services and facilities. There are thus many opportunities to learn new skills that may then lead the participant to a completely new line of work or career path.
A major advantage is increased employability, often over someone who has not taken part in the Scheme. Valuable work experience is gained that employers are often looking for. A 1997 survey of over 3,300 employers found that nearly 60% of employers would be more willing to hire someone who had worked for the dole rather than someone who had spent the same period receiving only unemployment benefits.
Simply put, the Work for the Dole Scheme gives unemployed people, particularly young people, reason to be optimistic. By getting out, meeting new people, learning new skills and improving their employment prospects they are breaking the cycle of job application, rejection, despair and low self esteem. The Work for the Dole Scheme is a positive step forward and its availability is a major advantage for unemployed people. The Scheme not only provides work, it also instils responsibility, independence and hope for the future.