Young people, job mobility, and building a healthy future economy

Young people, job mobility, and building a healthy future economy

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that automation is rapidly changing the world of work.

Headlines like Robots vs. Humans, Robots Are Taking Our Jobs or a personal favourite, You Will Lose Your Job to a Robot—and Sooner Than You Think, have become the norm in conversations about the future of work.

For a young person, these headlines are alarming. Adding to this pressure, research continues to mount that young people face a grim picture in their future careers. A recently released report from the Reserve Bank of Australia found that over the past decade, the rate of un and underemployment of young people has doubled in comparison to the overall labour market. Compounding this, the share of 20–24 year olds disengaged from either study or work has also increased.

There’s an urgent need to transform how young people transition to the workplace and within workplaces. We must also reframe the conversation from the doomsday narrative to a solutions-based approach.

A recent OECD report, ‘Moving Between Jobs’ identifies how governments can inform the design of cost-effective training policies to help keep our workforce mobile by measuring the skills needed across jobs and the distances between skills in those jobs.

The report maps the cognitive skills (literacy and numeracy), and capabilities that arise from performing tasks (digital skills, management skills, and communication skills) across 127 different occupations. For example, a retail service worker needs communications skills to be able to do their job, however they may not need digital literacy skills, which an administration support worker would. If the retail service worker wanted to transition to administration support, they would be missing integral skills to be able to do the role, and would need to retrain.

This move between occupations results in either a skill excess, skill shortage or a perfect skill match. For the retail support worker, moving to the administration support worker’s role results in a skill excess as they do not need the same level of communication skills, and a skill shortage because they do not have the digital literacy skills.

With young people expected to have potentially 17 jobs over 5 careers in their lifetime, depending on the job transition, this can result in either the need to upskill or re-skill into a different occupation or take a wage cut and move into a lower-skilled position where the employee already has all of the skills needed to fill the role. We need to set up young people for lifelong learning, as readiness to learn can affect the ability of people to move between jobs.

Australia’s government has an opportunity to establish a framework for labour market mobility. Evidence suggests that this can be done through applying the cluster model to careers education and management advice. Jobs are more related than we previously imagined, with seven new job clusters existing in Australia.

Current and future workers can use these clusters to identify a set of skills and passions they have, and find the cluster that uses these skills the most. By finding a cluster, that young person can find jobs which share the same skills or require minimal skill additions, and use this to navigate their job choices overtime.

This provides a roadmap for young people and the Australian workforce more broadly, to understand how they can move between jobs that have overlap in skill sets. By rethinking workforce planning in Australia, we can begin to turn the conversation around to be one of opportunity rather than despair: empowering young people for the future of work.