Helping young people get ahead: filling the financial literacy gap early on in life

Basic financial literacy is an essential skillset for every young Australian to acquire if they want to be fully prepared for life once they graduate, says United Way CEO Kevin Robbie. 

Youth unemployment in Australia is at its highest in a decade, with almost one in four young people in low socioeconomic status (SES) communities not fully engaged in work or study.

It is particularly crucial for these young Australians – some of who have grown up in a household where neither parent is able to hold stable employment, or who may have left school prior to graduation, or faced a raft of other challenges – to develop the skills they need to make sound financial decisions and reach their goals. I believe we have a collective responsibility to provide these young people with the opportunity to succeed in life, regardless of their challenges.

Enabling young people facing disadvantage to gain basic financial literacy skills is an issue close to my heart, having spent much of my working life in the UK and more recently in Australia assisting young people experiencing homelessness, mental ill health, drug misuse issues and long-term unemployment, to find their way out of disadvantage. One common thread through these 20 years has been the debilitating impact of debt brought about by ill-informed financial decisions, often early in life.

That’s why, at United Way, one of our priorities is to focus on making it easier for young people to obtain practical money skills. Recently, we launched our Financial Literacy program in partnership with ING DIRECT – a free downloadable series of teaching resources targeted at engaging young people in low SES communities. Schools play such a critical role in preparing young people for life after education, and while we’ve seen excellent programs such as the National Financial Literacy Curriculum Resource, our work in disadvantaged communities revealed that current curriculum resources do not fully resonate with the everyday challenges these students face.

So, using input from teachers and experiences from students and young people within these communities, our Financial Literacy program tackles issues such as the real cost of moving out of home, owning your first vehicle, the lure of pay-day loans and pawnshops, and how fees and high interest rates can make it easy to slip into a cycle of debt. The modules use real-life scenarios the students might face because a solid foundation in financial literacy – understanding the real consequences of personal financial choices – improves quality of life and increases opportunities for career development.

This free program provides teachers with another tool to prepare young people in Australia’s most disadvantaged communities for life after education. It may be just one step in a journey towards helping our next generation succeed in life, but I believe it’s one we need to walk together.

Want to find out more? Read about some of the ways in which United Way Australia’s Financial Literacy program is helping improve financial wellbeing. 


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