How we can begin to address high rates of youth underemployment

We need more solutions to youth part-time employment

How we can begin to address high rates of youth underemployment

The Brotherhood of St Laurence has released a report this week highlighting significant changes over the past few decades in the way young people experience employment. Using long-term trend data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), the report shows clearly the growth in part-time employment as a proportion of all employment for young workers (aged 20-24 years) between 1978 and 2018. In 1978 less than 10% of young workers were employed part-time. In 2018 this has grown to 44%.


Over half (53%) of young women working today are working part-time, a substantial increase from 16% in 1978. Young men are also more likely to be working part-time in 2018 compared to 1978 (37%, up from 5%).


While part-time work has increased for older workers, the increase is more modest. The proportion of female workers aged 25 years and over working part-time has increased very slightly in the last forty years. The proportion of male workers aged 25 years and over working part-time has increased more markedly but is still much less than female workers.


Some of these young, part-time workers will be studying at university or TAFE. Part-time work combined with education is a relatively common experience for young people.


What’s more curious is the growth in young people who are engaged in part-time employment and not enrolled in education and training. Around 30% of young workers are employed part-time and are not enrolled in education. This proportion has been growing steadily since the late 1990s.


Many of these young, part-time workers want to work more hours (i.e. they are underemployed). Underemployment has become a feature of work today, with the rise of part-time employment. The Brotherhood of St Laurence report presents some evidence that underemployment is related to the growth of employment in the retail trade and accommodation and food services industries. Many of the jobs in these industries are unlikely to be the long-term career choices of young people due to low pay and poor conditions of employment associated with these industries.


The Brotherhood’s report highlights the changing nature of the labour market experience of young people and suggests that young people are experiencing an ‘era of insecurity’ in employment. Many young people are having difficulty in making the transition to work.


What the report does not do is articulate any solutions to this insecurity. What is needed to reduce this insecurity? What are the policies, programs and services young people need to make the transition to employment smoother and easier? What can governments do? What do young people want and need to reach their aspirations in terms of education, training and work? What are the solutions?


These are some of the questions the National Youth Commission Australia (NYCA) is seeking to answer in our Inquiry into Youth Employment and Transitions. Understanding the problems and challenges young people face today in education and employment is important, but using this knowledge to create and inform real solutions so that young people are best equipped to adapt to the changing nature of work is critical. The NYCA Inquiry is a mechanism for discovering these solutions and will do so by engaging civil society through a range of platforms, recognising that no one sector can solve this major challenge alone.