Do you remember what it was like starting your first job? The overwhelming mixed sensations of joy about having landed a full-time gig combined with the sheer terror of leaving the classroom to put your skills into action?
Well, starting a new job these days isn’t any easier. In fact the Foundation for Young Australians’ (FYA) research shows that while young people are staying in education longer, they are still not getting the skills they need to actually get a job. It’s taking an average of 4.7 years once they finish full-time education to find a full-time job.
And once they do secure a position the realisation quickly sets in – there’s still so much more to learn.
Now we know that there are some things you can’t learn anywhere but on the job. And our research report The New Basics tells us that employers are increasingly demanding transferable enterprise skills like problem solving, creativity, communication and digital literacy from young employees.
But are there things we could be upskilling young people in before they leave the safe, structured world of education to enter the fiercely competitive job market?
We asked three young workers what they wish they’d known before starting their first gig:
Edward Vong, 23, Legal Coordinator
I have a Bachelor of Arts (Politics, Media Communications) and am currently studying my Juris Doctorate. My first job which I viewed as directly relating to my career was as a Digital Coordinator at FYA.
The way that we learnt to apply our knowledge at university was so rigid in comparison to how things work in the real world.
In my media communications subjects we were taught how to write and edit an article, and how to write for a specific audience but not how to write and publish material online, or how to read analytics to know whether your material was getting any traction.
The skills and capabilities that we need to be effective communicators in a digital age weren’t given much attention at all – I learnt most of this once I started work.
The biggest thing I wish I’d known is that no one expects you to be perfect or to know everything. My colleagues knew that I had just completed my studies and that I would need support to transition into a work environment. But no one told me that so I put a lot of pressure on myself to be perfect.
Sherry-Rose Bih Watts, 21, Consultant
I am currently studying International Relations and am working part-time as a YLab Associate where I deliver consulting advice to institutions seeking to rethink the systems that shape the future. This is my second job after working as a waitress while studying.
Before I started my first job, I wish I’d learned how to express myself more clearly.
I’ve written so many essays at university and I’ve honed my research skills, as well as my capacity to write well academically but I rarely have opportunities to learn how to communicate effectively – whether in a meeting, or presenting at an event.
In particular I feel like it would’ve been useful to learn negotiation skills – I’ve found these so important to resolve conflict as well as discuss bigger projects. It’s a fine art and I think I would’ve been in a stronger position if I had been able to develop these ahead of starting my job.
I also wish I’d known how important my digital skills would be and worked to upskill them a bit more. Until I started my job I only ever used Microsoft Word – learning the suites of resources, as well as how to use tools like Excel would’ve helped me along so much.
Tess Melville, 26, Volunteer Service Coordinator
My first role was as a Volunteer Services Administration Officer which involved administration, reception and personal assistant responsibilities.
One thing I wish I had known before beginning is that you don’t need to earn the right to speak up – if you have an idea you should just voice it.
I spent a lot of time thinking I just had to do things the way they’d always been done, even when I had ideas about how we might make improvements or get a task done more efficiently. But when you start a job you think that as the inexperienced one, those who have been working 5 or more years know better.
What I came to understand is that there are always improvements to be made and, so long as you present an idea with respect, people are usually happy when you can make suggestions to change things for the better – no matter how old you are!
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