Opinion article

Why we need to support young Australians to get into full-time work

Young people are disproportionately affected by the fourth industrial revolution with many 15 to 25 year-old Australians facing significant barriers when seeking full-time employment, writes Jan Owen AM. 

Change has always been a constant in the world of work. From the printing press to the digital revolution, the tasks we perform and consequently the skills required at work are always evolving.

But the fourth industrial revolution, propelled by automation, globalisation and increasing casualisation has and continues to change Australia’s labour market at an unprecedented rate.

Where we once had one job after finishing school, young people today will likely navigate 17 changes in jobs across five different careers. Sometimes they’ll be working for others, sometimes for themselves, maybe even both on occasion.

The latest research from the Foundation for Young Australians’ (FYA), The New Work Reality reveals that our new workforce, and the demands it places on workers is disproportionately affecting young people.

The challenge

Following the journeys of 14,000 young people from 15 to 25 the report reveals that young Australians face a number of significant barriers when seeking full-time employment.

In fact, nearly 60 per cent of young Australians aged 25 hold a post school qualification, yet 50 per cent of them are unable to secure over 35 hours of work per week. The way we’re making up a full-time work week is also changing with the amount of 15–24 year-olds working in casual full-time employment doubling since 1992.

Of those unable to get full-time work by 25, three of every four young Australians don’t believe they have the relevant vocational and practical work experience that the market asks for; seven out of 10 believe there is insufficient job availability; and one in four believe they lack the necessary interview and job application skills.

We know from the CEDA Community Pulse report that education and work is an increasing issue for Australia’s young people. In particular they have identified the need for strong links between education and the workplace.

It’s not only young people who pay the price for this lost opportunity: the whole of Australian society and the national economy suffer, mental health issues increase and reduce productivity and public health is compromised.

Young people in work benefits the entire nation. Research shows that if youth unemployment and underemployment were brought in line with the rest of the population, it would generate up to $15.9 billion in additional GDP, and 790 million more hours of work each year.

The opportunity

Australians have identified what they believe should be the top priority for job creation should be in the CEDA report, with an overwhelming result that there should be more jobs overall and more permanent jobs to reduce work insecurity. It’s obvious we need stronger economic growth to be able to support this strategy, the protection of young workers into the future of work and ultimately our economy.

But there are also some ways to help equip current and future workers with a toolkit of capabilities to adapt to our continually evolving world of work.

Comparing the journeys of 25-year-olds who’ve secured full-time work compared to those who haven’t, the report identifies four factors that can support young people to get full-time work faster. These include:
  • Courses teaching enterprise skills like problem solving, teamwork and communication. This can increase the speed of entry to working full-time hours by 17 months.
  • Relevant paid work experience. This can speed up the transition to full-time work by up to 12 months.
  • Employment within an area of work which has strong growth future prospects can speed up the transition by five months.
  • An optimistic mindset and strong well-being by age 18.This can accelerate the transition by up to two months faster than a young person who is unhappy with their career prospects.
Throughout our New Work Order report series FYA has consistently called for investment in a national enterprise skills and careers education strategy to help shape education in Australia.

This investment should include a nation building education strategy to redesign the learning system and curriculum from preschool through higher education (and beyond); a commitment to work integrated models of learning to ensure opportunities to gain critical relevant work experience; and a targeted policy to strengthen the focus on mental well-being to prepare young people entering this transition period in their lives.

The next steps

We must leave our old assumptions about what full-time work looks like and shift our mindset toward building the skills, mindset and confidence young Australians need to kick start their careers in the new work reality.

Responding to the challenges facing our economy will require a tailored, multifaceted and urgent approach.
We need to rethink pathways from education to work to ensure our young people are equipped with the skills and capabilities to succeed.

About the authors

Jan Owen

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Jan Owen AM is currently the Chief Executive Officer of the Foundation for Young Australians. Jan was previously Executive Director of Social Ventures Australia; and Founder and CEO of the CREATE Foundation. Jan is a highly regarded social entrepreneur, innovator, commentator and author who has spent the past 25 years growing the youth, social enterprise and innovation sectors. In 2012 she was named Australia's inaugural Australian Financial Review and Westpac Woman of Influence.