Stuck in transition: why can’t 50 per cent of young Australians secure full-time work?

Stuck in transition: why can’t 50 per cent of young Australians secure full-time work?

Australia is facing a new reality. While we may be mourning the loss of housing affordability and the erosion of the great Australian dream of home ownership, there is another great Australian entitlement slipping through our fingers - the prospect of full-time employment for our young people.

It may have once seemed reasonable to expect, by the age of 25, that the average young Australian had completed their education or training, secured full-time employment and achieved financial independence from their parents, but research shows this is not the case. In fact, half of them have not.

In our latest New Work Order report – The New Work Reality – the Foundation for Young Australians has found that despite 60 per cent of young Australians holding some form of post school qualifications, 50 per cent of them are unable to secure traditional employment scenarios of more than 35 hours of work per week.

How young people create a full-time workload is also changing with double the amount of young people working full-time hours in casual jobs compared to 1992. An estimated 630, 000 young people are working full-time hours in casual employment, and 540, 000 do so through multiple jobs.

The underutilisation of so many young Australians in our workforce is estimated to be costing the economy up to 790 million lost working hours each year, meaning up to $15.9 billion in lost GDP.  Not to mention the additional impacts; among 18-24 years olds looking for work, 28 per cent identify as having anxiety and more than 40 per cent are affected by stress.

In following 14 000 young people over a period of ten years, from 15 to 25, the New Work Reality explored the barriers young people face when trying to transition to full time work after study or training.

Three out of of every four young Australians identified they didn’t believe they have the relevant vocational and practical work experience that the market demands. Seven out of 10 believe there is insufficient job availability and one in four believe they lack the necessary interview and job application skills.  

Through comparing the journeys of young people who have secured full-time work compared to those who haven not the report identifies four factors that can accelerate the transition from full-time education to full-time work.

The four most significant factors supporting young people to secure full-time work faster are:

  • 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 5 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 or not confident with their career prospects before leaving school.

Having young people in work is not just a benefit for this generation.

Australia is already facing the prospect of an ageing population and a consequently shrinking workforce. By 2042, there will only be approximately two working people for every person aged over 65, compared to more than five in 2012.

More than ever before young people need access to a relevant, high quality education and learning systems that reflect and respond to their changing and diverse needs, and those of the economy.

We need to invest in redesigning learning pathways from education to work to ensure young Australians are equipped and empowered with the skills, mindset and confidence they urgently need. There are already many examples being developed overseas, with countries like Belgium introducing dual education systems in secondary and tertiary institutions, where students can spend 60 per cent of their time in the workplace and 40 per cent in-school learning.

For 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.

Jan Owen AM

CEO, Foundation for Young Australians