Youth unemployment has reached a 15-year high in Victoria, with 15 to 24-year-olds hit the hardest by the worsening crisis.
An analysis of youth unemployment data reveals that the situation has deteriorated in 12 of the state's 17 regions in the past year.
Thousands of young Victorians from all backgrounds are finding themselves caught up in a spiral of unemployment, and the situation is particularly dire in socially disadvantaged suburbs of greater Melbourne and rural areas.
The region of Warrnambool and South-West, Geelong, Melbourne's north-west and Hume are some of the most difficult areas to find work for 15 to 24-year-olds.
Brotherhood of St Laurence executive director Tony Nicholson warned that Victoria was "hurtling towards a social disaster".
"In a short time youth unemployment will be a significant handbrake on the economy.
"We are facing a situation where in a few years unemployment rates of more than 25 per cent won't be uncommon."
Policy makers had been sitting on their hands for decades and failed to recognise the dramatic changes to the economy, he said.
"The economy has changed from a closed economy, that was a lot more manufacturing based, to a more service-based, knowledge-based and competitive economy."
The average Victorian youth unemployment rate for the year to July 2014 was 13.8 per cent, up from 12.3 per cent from the same period a year earlier. Victoria is the second worst Australian state for youth unemployment after Tasmania.
Many young Victorians are unsuccessfully applying for hundreds of jobs, and are being turned down because they are told they do not have enough experience.
The analysis, provided by the Brotherhood of St Laurence and based on Australian Bureau of Statistics data, found that in the Warrnambool and South West region 18 per cent of young people under 24 are unable to find work, up from 14.2 per cent.
In the past year youth unemployment only improved in five regions - Melbourne West, Ballarat, Bendigo, Hume and Latrobe-Gippsland.
Victorian Council of Social Service chief executive Emma King said youth unemployment had significantly worsened during the first seven months of this year, with the 2014 Victorian average currently at 14.7 per cent compared to 12.5 per cent in 2013.
"Youth unemployment is at a 15-year high and it is starting to cross boundaries that it didn't previously."
The situation is particularly tough for people who have finished university.
"They are continually told they don't have enough experience. We have a very competitive job market, they have done all the right things in terms of education."
She called for a "comprehensive workforce participation plan" that involved community, business and government coming to the table and criticised federal government changes that deny under-30s income support for six months of every year.
"They are going to be left without assistance to find work and without income assistance for six months of the year, they will be at increased risk of homelessness, they will be living on air."
Shadow treasurer Tim Pallas blamed the situation on state government TAFE cuts and called on the Coalition to acknowledge the problem.
"Then they need to commit to taking real and meaningful action and that means rectifying the damage they have done to our TAFEs so our kids can get the skills they need for the jobs they want."
But Treasurer Michael O'Brien sung praise for the government's economic credentials, saying there were 78,700 more Victorians in work today than when Labor left office in 2010.
"We also have a $27 billion infrastructure program that will create tens of thousands of new jobs; projects and jobs that Daniel Andrews and Labor oppose."
He said the government had increased vocational education and training funding by 50 per cent and introduced reforms to ensure young people received the skills they needed to find work.
A spokesman from Premier Denis Napthine's office said increased funding for vocational education and training meant the number of government subsidised enrolments had skyrocketed from around 381,000 in 2008 to 645,000 last year.
"It's great to see that our positive reforms have led to a 10 per cent decrease in male youth unemployment in Warrnambool with fewer unemployed men in Warrnambool than any other region in Victoria."
In response to Victoria's youth unemployment figures, Prime Minister Tony Abbott repeated his mantra that Australians needed to earn or learn.
''If a young person wants to recieve a government benefit, there is a very easy way to do that, and that is to actually go into further education and training,'' Mr Abbott said in Melbourne.
''And I say to peole who are about to leave school earn or learn because what is unacceptable to our community - and should be unacceptable to you - is leaving a school to go on a welfare benefit. That is no way to begin your life. It is no way to begin your life as a constructive contributor to the Australian community.
''Thanks to things like trade support loans we have more opportunities for people to improve themselves than ever before. I think those opportunities should be taken,'' he said.
With Deborah Gough
Arie Eddy is 18 and has been unemployed for 2 1/2 years. He applies for 20 jobs a fortnight. Photo: Vicky Hughson
'It makes me feel like I don't have any purpose'
Arie left school in Hamilton at 16 because of bullying, leaving a job at McDonald's behind him in search of a better life in Warrnambool.
His love of adventure and the outdoors led him to attempt to enlist in the military, but four months into the process, he says, he was denied entry because of his severe asthma.
He then dreamed of working at a cafe and started a hospitality course with TAFE, but when its funding was cut the course was scrapped. Arie was only a quarter of the way through it.
He has been on a youth allowance payment with Centrelink for 18 months that requires him to apply for 20 jobs a fortnight.
Out of the 780 applications he has lodged for jobs at cleaning companies, farms and cafes across the region, he has had just one job interview.
"It constantly makes me feel worthless. It makes me feel like I don't have any purpose and every day is hard to get through. I feel like I have no need to be around if I haven't got a job," Arie said.
The $545 he gets from the government a fortnight is carefully spread between rent, food, bills and medication for asthma and depression. What is left — usually $20 — is for fuel.
"Every day, I stress because I haven't got money for this or that, that I haven't got money for fuel," he said.
Arie reckons about 30 of his friends are also unemployed. They help each other out through things like car pooling so they can save on fuel.
His family in Hamilton can't help him as they are struggling financially as well, but there is some promise ahead for Arie.
Inspired by his grandmother and aunts who work in security, his employment agency has arranged for him to start a certificate II in security in Geelong in six months, with 95 per cent of its cost covered.
Arie hopes there will be work for him at the end of it.
"It'll make me proud of myself," he said.
Nick Jones: "I've applied for jobs in cafes, washing dishes, bar work". Photo: Penny Stephens
'I've applied for jobs in cafes, washing dishes, bar work'
While many of his peers are sleeping in or devouring fancy cafe breakfasts, Nick Jones, 23, spends Saturday morning scouring newspapers for jobs and handing in resumes.
The 23-year-old lives with his mother in Hawthorn and has been on the hunt for work for about 10 months. During that time he estimates he has applied for between 300 and 400 jobs.
He is not fussy and says he wants to do "anything to do with customer service".
"I've applied for jobs in cafes, washing dishes, any bar staff work. The problem with having so many people looking for work and so many people who may not have as much experience is that employers can pick and choose from hundreds of applicants."
He says the most demoralising thing about applying for jobs is not getting any response — not even an email saying he has been unsuccessful.
Before he was unemployed Nick worked in a call centre, but he lost his job. Before that he studied public relations at TAFE but was unable to finish his course due to depression and anxiety.
He is taking part in a Jesuit Social Services training and employment program called Ignite, which involves working in a cafe at Camberwell library. He is learning food preparation skills, customer service and restaurant management and says he will "become a fully trained cafe allrounder" once he has finished the program. He hopes these skills strengthen his resume and help him find work.
"It has given me a great sense of self-worth and motivation. I am not employed to work at the cafe, my money comes in the form of a Newstart payment from Centrelink which equates to $6 an hour. But the great thing that comes from this is the training."
He would like to return to study one day but says the most important thing at the moment is finding a job and gaining financial independence.
"I've been very fortunate that I have been able to find a way into this program. There are thousands of young people in worse situations and I am very fortunate."