How to facilitate youth transitions into full-time work: A youth perspective
It is safe to say things have changed from when our parents first entered the job market. In the 1980s employment expectations and transitions for men and women differed, as they had for generations.
In the 1950s women made up one third of the labor force and in 2015 it was nearly half at 46.5%. The numbers of women in the workforce began to increase in the 1960s when it became accepted that women could return to work after having children.
However, men were paid more and were the main breadwinners and entered the workforce with a view of working their way up in a stable job for life, before transitioning into a comfortable retirement.
Fast forward to 2019. Today’s young people face difficulties in actually getting an entry-level job let alone permanent employment, career-defining promotions or pay rises. It is estimated that school leavers today will likely have 17 different jobs across five careers in their lifetime. Over 50% of all young people will likely end up in jobs that haven’t been created yet.
In this modern career jungle gym, young people face added pressure: there are simply less full-time jobs today than in previous generations. In the first half of 2018, more than 60% of all the jobs were part-time, and 1 in 7 Australians was either unemployed or underemployed. Of this, it is estimated that 650,000 are young people under the age of 25.
The rise in unemployment and underemployment is linked to shifts in types of work that are replacing the traditional 9-5 job. The growing popularity of flexible work and the gig economy is certainly part of this.
Young people do not experience these issues equally throughout the country. In fact there are pronounced gaps between states and territories in unemployment figures:
Source: The Smashed Avocado, Youth Affairs Coalition South Australia (YACSA)
Youth unemployment is not a new issue.
However the causes are more complex now than 30 years ago. A 1998 research report in the Australian Council for Education Research Journal (ACER) analysed 20 years of youth unemployment and determined that completion of year twelve was the single most important factor reducing the incidence of unemployment for young jobseekers aged 15-24 years-old.
The report concluded that post-school qualifications were of “little benefit” in the prevention of young people finding full-time employment. Although, once employed, workers with a degree advanced faster and further in their careers.
The bottom line in the mid to late 20th century was: finish year 12 and you will have a good chance of attaining a job for life.
Today’s young people face a complicated set of obstacles to permanent and secure employment. Failure to complete high school is no longer the main barrier to getting a foot in the workforce. As whole categories of entry-level or low-skilled jobs are replaced by automation and digital technology, and as long as full-time work becomes increasingly precarious and difficult to attain, adaptability and a strong toolkit of skills, innovation, and knowledge are imperative to navigating the contemporary work landscape.
Young people increasingly indicate feeling unprepared as school leavers and new graduates. They identify a disproportionate emphasis on grades and exam performance at school and insufficient emphasis on subjects teaching real-world skills such as job application and interview skills are integral to the problem.
Recent research supports this view that skills-based education falls short when preparing graduates for employment.
Working undergraduates 39.8% and postgraduates 29.92% said they weren’t not fully utilising their skills or qualified education in their current job. Employed undergraduates with a Psychology degree were hit hard at 60.8 %.
The Institute of Employment Research investigated how collaboration with higher education is a winning formula for graduates, employers, and companies.
So how can policy makers facilitate young people’s transition into the full-time permanent workforce?
Formally teaching young people the skills to seek and apply for jobs while they are still at school; vocational support to steer youth towards future-focused jobs; and securing relevant paid employment while studying, are all strategies identified as accelerating the transition to full-time employment.
Young people cannot be expected to adjust to the new work landscape without these tools and a shift in our thinking and design of Australia’s education and training system.
Policy makers and educators have a role to play in the evolution of this system, so that it facilitates youth transitions to employment today and into the future. But the education system can move at a glacial pace, and young people are already finding their own solutions instead of relying on policy makers by thinking outside the box and approaching the transition to work within novel ways.
An increasing number of young people participate in voluntary or unpaid labour to build workplace-ready skills. Matthew’s story is one of many young people can relate too.
In today’s world the path to employment is not as simple as – finish high school and this will lead to a “job for life”. Today the reality of a precarious and evolving job market is only one of the barriers to achieving full-time work. It is time to recognise that we all; educators, policy makers, employers, and young people, have a part to play in adapting to the new world of work. So, let’s get started.