How Young Australians Are Working Differently

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Image: Mayu Kanamori via theage.com.au

Youth unemployment is at it’s highest than it has ever been – but it’s a different challenge to what it used to be, according to this article written by Matt Wade of The Age.

The way in which young people in Australia have worked has changed quite significantly over the past three decades:

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, hundreds of teens would get full-time work straight after finishing school. Well over half a million 15-19 year olds had a full-time job in the 80s.

Fast-forward to 2015, and there are only just 154,000 teenagers in full-time work.

The dramatic shift in these rates is suggested to be a result of a rapid improvement in high school retention rates; kids are staying in school longer.

In 1985 more than one in two young people left school before Year 12 but that’s fallen to about one in five.

There has also been a record-high of school leavers going straight into further study such as through university or TAFE, with the desire to combine work and study meaning that most young people now want a part-time job rather than a full-time one.

As a result Australia’s youth workforce has switched from being predominantly full-time to predominantly part-time/casual.

This shift has been brought on quite quickly, as back in 1980 only 20% of young workers were part-timers whereas nowadays this percentage is at 75%.

Patterns of youth unemployment also reflect this trend. In mid-1997 – the last time youth unemployment was as high as it is now – the number of young people looking for a full-time job was 50 per cent greater than the number looking for part-time work. Now the number of young people looking for a part-time job is nearly 40 per cent higher than the number of full-time job seekers. Only about one in every 22 of those in the 15-19 year-old age group are looking for a full-time job compared with one in 10 in the mid-1990s.

The recent spike in the youth unemployment rate to an 18-year high of 20 per cent underscores some big policy challenges. One is the growing “segregation” in the jobs market between those with post-school qualifications and those without.

Dr Damian Oliver from Sydney University’s Business School says that the “time is ripe for a clearer look at non-school options for 15 to 19-year olds.”

He says that there will always be a portion of population who will not finish year 12 and new pathways into long-term, quality employment may be needed for that group.

However he also highlights another worrying trend – a rise in long-term unemployment for those aged between 20 and 24.

Recent figures show that 30,000 young people in that age bracket have been unable to secure work for more than a year.

“To have that number growing is a concern,” said Dr Oliver. “It may be a sign of a loss of dynamism in the labour market. Employers are just not picking up young people who have been unemployed longer term.”

There has also been continued evidence that young people with qualifications such as university degrees still find it extremely difficult to find and secure work. A recent report by the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling drew attention to the relatively high proportion of 20 to 29-year-olds with degree qualifications working as sales assistants and in hospitality.

The problem comes down to that same old dilemma we all know too much about – to get work we need experience, but to get experience we need work.

“One barrier for young people getting into the workforce is that employers are looking for people with experience, and young people can’t get experience in a field without a job. This can mean many young people continue in their part-time university jobs after they’ve finished studying,” the report said.

Economist Dr Nicholas Gruen believes that the problem is the fact that jobs these days are becoming more sophisticated; we are seeing a lot more specialised fields and degrees. This in a fast-paced, ever-changing world has hindered young people’s ability to transition into the workforce.

In the past, employers would have been more willing to train young workers or give young school leavers a go, but now employers favour young people with relevant qualifications and working experience.

“The system seems quite shy of incurring the cost of inducting young workers.”

 

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