5 strategies to lift employment barriers for young people

In today’s tight labour market, many employers are struggling to attract or retain promising young talent. With growing competition for skills, forward-thinking organisations are being rewarded for updating employment practices and opening up opportunities.

Sound difficult? Doesn’t have to be. Here’s a breakdown of 5 proven practices:

Behind each of these tactics is a ‘Business as Usual’ barrier. Read on to learn which barriers are keeping the right candidates out of your organisation and how to lift them, opening an untapped stream of young, diverse applicants.


Keen to learn more? Subscribe to updates from SVA.

We specialise in helping employers lift barriers facing young people.

We’ll only email you when we have something new to say. Subscribe to be the first to hear about our latest insights, reports, webinars or networking events.


Why make a change to your BAU practices?

One in five young people are actively looking for work, but can’t get a foot in the door.

Despite record low unemployment, this huge pool of potential workers hungry for better quality jobs are being mostly overlooked by employers.

A major driver is that many common employment practices create unintended barriers for young people from less privileged backgrounds. As a result, employers are missing out on great candidates.

Often, these employment barriers go unnoticed; they are simply the product of ‘Business as usual’. Yet they rob young people of opportunities for decent, secure work, and employers of a latent pool of talent.

Making these 10 changes to your BAU can clear the way for young people who have not had a head start in life to become valuable long-term employees. No matter your business size or sector, recognising – and clearing – these barriers will deliver a more vibrant, inclusive and productive workplace.


Barrier #1: Unnecessary qualifications and industry experience

The challenge

Requiring a degree when the job doesn’t really need one filters out many candidates and limits the diversity of your talent pool. Another common practice is advertising for people with one or more years’ experience, even for entry level roles.

Similarly, selection processes that favour candidates with access to ‘premium’ experiences, like extra-curricular activities or study abroad programs, can inadvertently bias your hiring process against equally capable candidates.

Industry insider jargon in job ads is another common obstacle. It’s not always obvious to young people – particularly those without good family support – what jobs actually entail. They may not put themselves forward for jobs they could do, and employers would hire them for.

The solution

You can widen your candidate pool by moving to skills based hiring. This will ensure you zero in on the skills you actually need.

Beginner steps

  • Eliminate degree requirements that are not strictly necessary for the role.
  • Make sure your job ads describe what you need in plain English, without use of terms that only industry insiders would know.
  • Don’t preference experiences like extra-curricular activities or study abroad programs that are more readily available to candidates from wealthier families.

Intermediate steps

  • Review job requirements to focus on the fundamental skills and capacities needed for the job, not ‘nice to haves’ or candidates with specific experiences.

The business benefit

This approach broadens your talent pool, attracting a more diverse array of applicants. It ensures you don’t miss out on hidden gems who have the skills you need but don’t come from privileged backgrounds or already know people in your industry.

Global engineering firm Consep offered a paid rotational work experience initiative which uplifted the whole business and led to ongoing employment for 6 young trainees. Learn more.

Barrier #2: Being overly focused on backgrounds, not skills

The challenge

Many employers run background checks on candidates, even though a ‘clean’ background check isn’t actually necessary for the role. Many young people who may have been in trouble in the past simply rule themselves out, even if their background wouldn’t prevent them being hired.

Background checks also disproportionately affect young people from poor backgrounds and First Nations youth because they are overrepresented in the justice system, locking them out of opportunities.

The solution

Beginner steps

  • Remove mentions of background checks from job ads so that you can explain the purpose of any check to candidates directly.

Intermediate steps

The business benefit

This approach not only fosters a more inclusive workplace but also ensures that you are hiring the most capable people for the job, based on their skills and potential, not their background.

Barrier #3: Over-reliance on traditional interviews

Young woman holding a certificate of completion for her Certificate III in Business from NTHA.
Industry organisation NTHA adopted a new approach to recruiting young people that improved satisfaction and retention, driving a 31% increase in diversity. Click the image to read a case study.

The challenge

Relying on interviews as your primary way of recruiting narrows your talent pool.

This is especially true for young people. Interviews favour those who are good at it, rather than those with the right skillset.

Meanwhile, opaque application processes can intimidate or confuse candidates. Also, geographic or accessibility barriers limits their ability to attend interviews.

The solution

Beginner steps

  • Provide interview questions upfront to help candidates prepare.
  • Clearly communicate the interview criteria being assessed using a common, easily understood set of standards.
  • Allow candidates to choose between in-person or online interviews and be prepared to be flexible to help them present at their best.
  • Address possible barriers to participating in the recruitment process – like travel costs, or lack of access to a computer.
  • Adopt inclusive interviewing techniques.

Intermediate steps

  • Consider alternatives to interviews that allow different candidates to show their skills like (short) paid work trials or work simulation exercises.

The business benefit

These strategies further widen the pool of prospective talent. Transparency builds greater trust with candidates. Flexibility ensures that you don’t miss out on high-potential candidates restricted by traditional hiring methods, geographic limitations or accessibility needs.

Barrier #4: Inaccessible internships or work trials

The challenge

Young apprentice being supported by older mentor on the factory floor
Fairbrother’s nationally-recognised approach to apprenticeships involved community engagement, mentorship, and on-the-job learning experiences, seeing a 91% completion rate. Click the image to read a case study.

Paid opportunities are a great way to find new talent.

Unpaid internships or work trials create a barrier for young people from poorer families who lack resources to participate, or need give up other earning opportunities. In some cases, these arrangements are also unlawful.

The use of word-of-mouth or family networks to promote paid internship or work experience opportunities locks out young people who don’t have the ‘right’ school or family connections to learn about these opportunities.

The solution

Beginner steps

  • Widely advertise all work trials and internship opportunities.
  • Ensure all opportunities are paid.

Intermediate steps

  • Specifically target diverse and underrepresented young people for internship and work trial opportunities – for example through school or youth organisations.

The business benefit

These strategies will broaden your net, improve access to opportunities, and bring in fresh perspectives and ideas. Being more inclusive will not only enrich your team’s creativity and innovation but also enhance your reputation as a socially responsible and equitable employer.

Barrier #5: Job security

The challenge

Many young people, particularly those from less privileged backgrounds, get stuck in insecure employment.

No job security creates to to poor physical and mental health. Casual workers also miss out on opportunities for training and career progression. Casual employment often means irregular and unpredictable hours. This makes it difficult for young workers to manage their finances, find transport, or arrange caring responsibilities.

By contrast, better job security drives to better productivity and engagement and, of course, lower turnover.

The solution

Beginner steps

  • Offer regular hours that provide a stable income, sufficient to meet employee’s needs.
  • Limit the use of casual or temporary jobs to genuinely short term tasks.
  • Ensure casual and temporary staff have access to internal training and progression pathways.

Intermediate steps

  • Review use of labour hire and/or temp agencies where there is an opportunity to create ongoing roles.

The business benefit

Offering more stable employment builds a committed and engaged workforce.

Regular hours and the security of permanent positions can significantly increase employee satisfaction and productivity, and enables employees to make more informed decisions about their future. This enhances the overall efficiency and reputation of your business, making it a more attractive place to work.


What this means for your strategy

Bridging the employment gap for young people from less privileged backgrounds isn’t just a moral imperative; it’s a strategic advantage.

By dismantling barriers, you will be more than a champion for social equity. You will be fortifying your business with a dynamic, productive and dedicated workforce. Critically, you will:

  • significantly improve efficiency when recruiting for early-career roles,
  • enhance performance on DEI targets, and
  • fortify your organisation against current and future talent shortages.

The potential for action is immense. Those that act now will have a strategic upper hand.

By turning these barriers into bridges, you will create a workforce that both reflects Australia’s vibrant diversity and delivers better value for your business.


Want to learn more about identifying and removing barriers for young people? Drop us a line, or subscribe for updates.