Opinion: Are There Really No Jobs Or Are Young People Just Lazy?

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Are there no jobs, or are our kids just slack?

How can we simultaneously have a youth unemployment crisis and also a worker shortage? Perhaps the answer lies in the poor motivation and/or ability of some of our youths, writes Rachael Sharman.

How often do you hear the story of a young person who has applied for hundreds (if not thousands) of jobs, but can’t get a go?

Youth unemployment in Australia is at an appalling high, and there is plenty of finger-pointing and blame doing the rounds.

We hear that 457 visa workers are to blame (why are employers importing workers if perfectly good local employees are available?); or that there simply aren’t enough jobs advertised to accommodate the numbers of unemployed (ever heard of the hidden job market? It is said to account for anywhere between 75-80 per cent of available work).

In an incredible contrast, for every young person (or their parents) howling blue murder about the Government’s failure to provide job opportunities, there appears to be an equal number of employers tearing their hair out trying to find suitable employees.

In fact, this recent survey found that not only did more than 40 per cent of Australian employers struggle to find staff, they are so disillusioned by the process they have pretty much given up trying.

Yet another article popped up in my own region yesterday decrying the 14.4 per cent youth unemployment rate. But in reading the whole article, we learn that at the “coalface” of this youth jobs crisis, an excellent opportunity has been created by Manpower Green Army. Young people are paid to engage in conservation activities (boots, uniform and valuable training certificates provided).

Instead of being flooded by a tsunami of so-called desperate job seekers, the team supervisor was surprised to receive just enough applications to fill the spaces available. He was further disappointed to see his team quickly dwindle, partly in response to other jobs being taken up, but partly because some of the young people “were not prepared for the routine of the work schedule” – which is a very nice way of saying they were incapable of organising themselves to work a 30-hour week.

Here are some similar observations from the coalface.

Last year I found an ad on seek.com from a local employer who was desperate to employ a cabinet-making apprentice. The employer listed only two selection criteria: 1) can turn up five days per week; and 2) not afraid to work. The employer’s perception of difficulty in finding a candidate is backed by government data that suggest only 15 per cent of job applicants (that’s applications only) are rated by employers as “suitable”.

Just last week, a friend called to tell me the good news that her son had successfully obtained an apprenticeship, but in doing so he had to resign from his job as a casual waiter. He was asked by his employer to find himself a replacement among his networks. He could not. So the restaurant advertised and offered two young people a trial – neither of whom bothered showing up.

My friend was actually calling me to ask if any of my four teenagers (who juggle five jobs as well as study between them) could fill the gap!

When I asked my friend what the problem was, in her son’s opinion, she reported two primary barriers: 1) some of his friends simply don’t want to work; and 2) he would actually be embarrassed in recommending a couple of them because of their total lack of basic work ethic (unable to get out of bed and/or tear themselves away from their Xbox; and unable to reliably turn up when required).

These were his words, not mine – remember that before you hit the keyboard! And for what it’s worth, his observation is backed by the Brotherhood of St Laurence 2014 snapshot into youth unemployment, which reported:

Employers have identified that young job seekers are often not job-ready. They need employees who are reliable, willing to learn and able to fit into the workplace.

In trying to understand how we have arrived at this point, I’ve previously criticised our education system for manufacturing unrealistic aspirations; as well as creating a fantasy automatic entitlement/no responsibility/no consequences environment that has handicapped teens in developing the skills they need to become an employable adult.

But my friend’s son also raises interesting questions: precisely what proportion of young unemployed people just don’t want to work? Conversely, how many are hampered by poorly developed organisational skills or limited work ethic? This is an important distinction, as any “intervention” proposed to address youth unemployment simply won’t work unless it has been correctly tailored to target the actual problem(s).

Whatever the full range of reasons for this perplexing dilemma, we are left with the most extraordinary disconnect: young people on one side of the fence insisting they want to get in to the workforce, and employers on the other side screaming “where the bloody hell are you?”.

Perhaps it’s time to have a no-holds-barred investigation into this extraordinary divergence in employee v employer perceptions of job availability.

As unpalatable as the idea might be, we need to at least be open to the possibility that there exists a decreasing level of motivation and/or ability of young Australians to enter the workforce; and we need to get honest in exploring the reasons as to why.

Dr Rachael Sharman is a lecturer and researcher in psychology, specialising in child/adolescent development.

Source: The Drum via ABC.net.au

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