An unequal experience of employment: challenges facing culturally diverse young people

An unequal experience of employment: challenges facing culturally diverse young people

Young people in Australia experience education and work differently. Transitions from school to work vary greatly and are often shaped by various opportunities and challenges, many of which connect to the social and cultural backgrounds of those attempting to participate in these fields.


For young people from culturally diverse backgrounds, the experience of education and work is informed by their heritage and culture, and can determine the way they are treated in society.


For example young people from culturally diverse backgrounds may experience discrimination or language barriers, both of which impact their ability to participate in labour markets and effectively complete study. This means that the life chances of young people from culturally diverse backgrounds are significantly less than their Australian-born counterparts. The playing field is not equal, and such experiences then shape the way they are perceived and treated within society.


These challenges continue to exist because policy solutions rarely take cultural difference into consideration — this is evident given young people from culturally diverse backgrounds are performing worse in employment outcomes than their Australian-born counterparts yet obtain same or similar levels of skills, training or education.


While almost half (49%) of all Australians were either born overseas or had one or two parents born overseas, recent research shows that young university graduates from culturally diverse backgrounds are almost 25% less likely to find full-time employment beyond graduation compared to Australian-born university graduates. This illustrates the degree to which life chances vary for young people despite similarities in credentials and qualifications and their desire to achieve similar goals.


In a survey of two thousand 15-25 year olds from over 91 cultural backgrounds, 61% said that finding meaningful work was an important goal for them. Yet 49.6% were under or unemployed, a much higher rate compared with national youth under and unemployment rate of 32.2%.  


So what is the problem?


Young people are facing an unpredictable future. Forces like globalisation, automation and technology are radically changing our economic and social lives. There are big shifts in the job market, where employers are increasingly demanding new skills that aren’t necessarily taught in our schools, universities and TAFES. Industries that once dominated our markets, like manufacturing, are slowing while new industries including digital technology swell. Even some of the biggest employers out there don’t require a university degree to work for them – like Google and IBM which both recently advertised that they no longer require their employees to be formally educated.


The way we perform work is also changing. Traditional workplace models are being replaced by flexible and less stable working conditions. The job-for-life is fading into the past and young people are expected to improvise their working lives, taking up opportunities as they arise and making the best out of the type of work that comes their way. Career paths have gone from the traditional 9-5 in the same industry for 40 years, to now moving between jobs and industries multiple times, and working in more dynamic and flexible ways than previous generations.


Young people from culturally diverse backgrounds must find ways to manage the ever-changing career and job market, alongside experiencing racism and discrimination. In the 12 months leading up to the survey, 49% of respondents said they had experienced some form of discrimination or unfair treatment. Potential discrimination increases when young people must keep renewing contracts or applying for work.


To mitigate this, young people from culturally diverse backgrounds often choose to omit their race or ethnicity from job applications. In other words, they hide who they are.


Young people who have only recently arrived also may lack the knowledge and local networks to transition into employment, and may not have their education or training formally recognised in the Australian job market.


Because of these issues, young people from culturally diverse backgrounds have potential to be overrepresented in the gig economy or where entry to employment has low barriers. In particular this is the case for young people on temporary visas, and places them in insecure working conditions with low wages.  


For any young person, finding work isn’t easy. For every one job there are just under 16 available workers. But for young people from culturally diverse backgrounds it can be even harder. It requires the ability to navigate the new job market both online and in person, an awareness of the skills in demand, the talent and confidence to network and, most importantly, time — all of which are not equally available among young people.


The pronounced gap between the opportunities and outcomes of young people from culturally diverse backgrounds compared with Australian-born young people shows that there is a need for better support systems for these young people to be able to thrive in the future economy.