Understanding the Identity of Western Sydney’s Youth

The Dialogue’s Generation West conducted a survey to better understand the true identity of young people in Western Sydney, and was developed and distributed by the Dialogue and Generation West. This survey was conducted anonymously and collected 116 responses between February – May 2020.

GenWest Committee Member Aishah Ali also wrote a poem, ‘the intern’, expressing her experience as a young Western Sydneysider and reflecting some of the findings she examined, which can be found here. Below that are descriptions of some of the issues most pressing to the surveyed cohort.

Quick links

Migration, identity & language



Climate Change

Migration, identity & language

Aishah Ali 

In examining the migration background of young people in Western Sydney, the highest proportion of survey participants, at 62.5%, were of first generation with one or more parents are migrants and the second largest at 19.64% who were of second generation or longer, with both parents being born in Australia.

The cultural milieu of western Sydney is staggeringly diverse with a mirage of 35 different cultural backgrounds collected in the survey that are increasingly skewed to be concentrated in the Asian subcontinent, with the highest percentage of youth of Vietnamese, Chinese and Filipino descent. It is also important to acknowledge that while a notable portion of youth identified as Australian, this may or may not shield potentially individuals who whilst born in Australia are from a migrant background.

This incenses the conversation of how diasporic identities present themselves in Western Sydney particularly as young people as a result of operating in a highly digitised society have incidentally engendered the identity of being a floating ‘global’ citizen. This new anomaly whilst escaping the perimeters of the survey will be an increasingly relevant development to be examined in greater detail. However, of pertinence to this idea that young people may be seemingly deviated from their cultural background and may don a more ‘global’ identity is hypnotised to corelate to the findings on how many are connected to their cultural background and to what degree.

Exactly half of all participants claimed that they had a moderate connection to their cultural background, a quarter identifying as having a strong connection and a little more than 15% believed themselves to have a week connection. It opined based on this analysis, that there is a shift away from strong cultural ties and this can be rationalised by a myriad of reasons; whether there is a deliberate breakage in young people from connecting to traditional cultural practice or a gradual shift as a result of globalisation and digitalised societies to opt for a ‘global identity’: one that is not rooted in nationalism or tradition but on shared societal values and principles.

The survey also uncovered a diversity of languages spoken in Western Sydney, with 32 languages other than English identified. Whilst English was unsurprisingly the highest language spoken, Vietnamese, Mandarin and Cantonese were notably higher than other languages; however, it is important to acknowledge that this may be a result of a higher survey distribution in those particular communities.

Additionally, whilst fluency in a language other than English was not touched by the survey, as this would shed greater light on the familiarity imbued by their native language on young people the examination of how many young people felt comfortable using their native language in public probed interesting results. An overwhelming majority, at 90% claimed to very comfortable and confident speaking a language other than English in public.

This indicates that young people in Western Sydney are not only strengthened in their identity as it is performed in a public space but also in extension demonstrates that the environment in which their identity is being performed i.e. Western Sydney conjures a feeling of unquestioned welcome and safety for them to use their native linguistic apparatuses when they choose to.


Andrew Phong 

Jobs are a hot topic and an important issue for the youth of Western Sydney. 80% of respondents who have expressed their concerns about the future of work, indicated their doubts surrounding securing employment. With the Reserve Bank of Australia forecasting an increased unemployment rate of 10% by December 2020 and even greater economic stresses in the years to come, the emerging leaders of our region have been dealt a tough hand for the road ahead. It begs the question; how do we address these concerns?

The future of work is changing, and our education systems must therefore adapt their approach and programs to support the development of versatile skillsets among graduates irrespective of the level of qualification i.e. School Leaver, TAFE, Higher Education. The increasing collaboration between education institutions and employers in contributing towards the establishment of core competencies through real-life work experiences is promising. Western Sydney University and PwC’s Centre of Excellence in the heart of the Parramatta CBD at Parramatta Square is a great example of a strategic partnership that focuses on closing the gap in unemployment and producing job ready professionals. There needs to be more of these arrangements in place to ensure that young people can get a foot in the door. It allows for the advancement of ‘soft skills’ that complement the more technical capabilities that graduates develop during their studies and it is often these complimentary ‘life skills’ that really makes the difference in the job market. It also minimises the concern for some who believe that studying is a waste of time. However, the recent announcement of increased tuition fees for certain degree programs and study options creates a crippling reality for cohorts that wish to pursue their passions which are supposedly not in demand according to the Commonwealth Government.

Western Sydney is the home of a large talent pool of smart, energetic and culturally adept individuals. With significant infrastructure projects driving job growth such as the Western Sydney Aerotropolis, employers from both the public and private sectors must prioritise Western Sydney young people for these opportunities. There is an invested interest among residents of the region in adding value to the work that they do especially when it is so close to home. This will align with the Greater Sydney Commission’s commitment in creating 30-minute cities in reducing the daily commute of residents who travel to and from their home to the workplace. The average daily commute of the respondents is 50 minutes; a figure that is anticipated to decrease gradually in the years to come. With so many of our young people concerned with an uncertain economy and a lack of employment opportunities, the last thing the region needs is an extra barrier in the form of travel time.

Employment is our lifeblood and with so much concern surrounding what the future holds in terms of jobs, the ‘Australian Dream’ for many of our young people could very much be just a ‘dream’. We need employment for purchasing power and this is important when you look to purchasing your first home and when you are starting a family. Employment provides sanity, peace of mind and an opportunity to do great work, to live out your life purpose. From the data collected from our survey, it is suggested that we must create an environment that supports the development of competent, resilient and job ready graduates who are versatile and confident irrespective of the condition of our job market. We need to instil in them confidence and life skills to complement their technical competencies. It is with this that we will see these concerns surrounding jobs security minimised. There is however the consideration of the economic environment and how this affects the job market; but with this core focus where we are producing young people who are able to fend for themselves, there is really no challenge too great.


Joshua Lee 

The Identity of Western Sydney Youth Survey (“Survey”) revealed COVID-19 has raised concerns for the Western Sydney youth (“Young People”) in two areas; employment and education. 29% of Young People mentioned COVID-19 as a key concern and worried for the governments response.

As Young People in Western Sydney navigate through these unprecedented times, the Survey revealed that they are concerned about how it will impact their opportunity to find employment and setback their ability to be financially independent. Youth unemployment rose to 16.1 percent with 45% of jobs lost in May coming from young people in Australia (Janda, 2020). Respondents said their “future job prospects” and “finding jobs” was a key concern. However, two-thirds of the respondents felt that they were better off compared to their parents’ generation, in terms of financial security, career prospects and living circumstances. While COVID-19 has caused some Young People to be concerned about their future employment and financial situation, most feel that are still in a better position than their parents’ generation.

Education is regarded as important to Young People and they are concerned about the impact of COVID-19 to their education. Almost two thirds of respondents (63%) said they are studying and nine out of ten young people (91%) said that education is either important or very important. COVID-19 caused education institutions to temporarily close to protect the health and safety of both its employees and students. In doing so, many education institutions have adapted to online teaching platforms, which has enabled the students to complete their proper education. However, this drastic change in learning style has raised concerns for some Young People. One respondent said they were concerned that their grades may drop during the lockdown. Another respondent said they were concerned about “not being able to finish their degree [as planned] because of coronavirus closing down university”.

Furthermore, during the COVID-19 crisis, the Federal Government announced plans to cut prices of some university degrees and increase the cost of others to nudge students into industries that will be in demand following the coronavirus pandemic (Goodall, 2020). The Federal Education Minister, Dan Tehan, said the plan was to encourage students to study in areas where there will be a skill shortage and where there will be jobs in the future. COVID-19 has brought about changes that will affect students immediately and in the longer-term future, and the Survey has shown that this has caused concerns for Western Sydney youth.

The Western Sydney youth’s view of government was generally negative, only some respondents mentioned the government’s response to COVID-19 and of those who did, more than half (54%) had a negative view of the government’s actions. The Survey revealed that government’s management of the COVID-19 out-break did not improve young people’s view.

Climate Change

Richard Wachsmann 

A significant issue which is on the minds of almost all young people is climate change. Despite the prevalence of more tangible problems, such as the effects of COVID-19, and issues affecting young people on an individual level, such as mental health and employment, the youth of Western Sydney remains focussed on the future of our planet.

When asked for their thoughts on climate change, 95.1% of respondents agreed it is a real, serious issue, and that societal changes needed to be made to combat it. Additionally, 17.5% of respondents reported that climate change is what worries them most at the moment. These figures present a stark disconnect between the mindset of young people in Western Sydney and the greater population.

There is a clear division of opinion on the topic of climate change across age groups, with an average age of 22 across respondents in our survey. Polling conducted by the Lowy Institute in 2019 found that only 61% of Australians say global warming is ‘a serious and pressing problem’, about which ‘we should begin taking steps now even if this involves significant costs’, and this percentage declines to only 49% for people over 45. The lack of urgency towards climate change is a growing cause of frustration amongst the Australian youth, particularly in response to the inaction of governments at local, state and federal levels.

While many respondents mentioned making efforts to change their own behaviour, a common sentiment was that governments needed to take more action. Popular suggestions included shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, reducing emissions from businesses, and a greater acknowledgement of climate change with a focus on education.

A recent example of the real effects of climate change on the Western Sydney region is the 2019-20 bushfire season. Record-breaking temperatures combined with months of severe drought to fuel extreme fires across the state of NSW. Such conditions were predicted by the Bureau of Meteorology’s State of the Climate 2018. The scale of the damage has recently been detailed in a report by the NSW government, estimating that 81% of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area was affected. The devastation spread further to Western Sydney suburbs, while also often covering the city heavily in smoke.

In response to the bushfires, thousands of protesters took to the streets in Sydney, Melbourne, and other cities across Australia to demand climate action. While acknowledging the role played by the climate, the state and federal governments have declined to consider major shifts in policies on emissions or renewable energy sources.

It is in cases such as this that it becomes obvious, although there is a strong importance placed on climate change by the youth of Western Sydney, there is also a clear gap between their expectations and the reality when it comes to implementing change.