This week thousands of Australians took to the streets to call for the restoration of penalty rates and for resolutions to low-wage growth and insecure work in a changing economy. Young Australians are disproportionately impacted by these issues.
Research shows that young people are struggling to make up the 35+ hours a week equal to a full-time workload by the age of 25. Those who do secure full-time hours are often managing multiple jobs including casual, part-time, and freelance work.
A 15 year old today is more likely to have 17 jobs over five industries in their lifetime, making our career paths more like career webs or jungle gyms. This lack of job security and income stability, means young people face barriers to key adulthood milestones like moving out of home before 30 and buying property.
There are also opportunities for Millennials and Gen Z in this economy though. They can opt for a flexible work life with multiple jobs and no set 9-5, Monday to Friday job. They can travel the world while holding down a job in Melbourne. With the right skills and mindset they can move more easily between careers instead of working one job for their whole life.
These are the two sides of the ‘flexible work’ coin. So is this good for young people? Do they actually want flexible jobs over a stable 9-5 income? We decided to ask early career young people what they think:
Bridget | 21
After working both 9-5 full-time roles and multiple roles at once, I have always enjoyed the flexible hours and multiple jobs experience. I tend toward varied hours and positions because I like the freedom to plan out my day-to-day life according to what suits me best, rather than having to show up at the same workplace at the same time every single day. If I do that, I get burnt out and stuck in a sort of unmotivated rut. Multiple employers makes the work seem less stale to me. In addition, I have a much better work-life balance with flexible hours. If there’s an event during the day, I could work at night instead, or the next day. I like to enjoy work, rather than trying to survive the typical work week and live for the weekends.
Alejandra | 26
I want to get a job Monday to Friday, in the field I studied in which is in the not-for-profit sector, working for women’s empowerment. That turned out to be a very specific target, so I’ve been forced to accept casual contracts in a couple of NGOs at entry level positions for like 6-8 months.
For me, I want full-time work because I’m a young migrant living by myself in Australia. I have bills to pay and I also want to start to compensate for all the money I invested in my degree paying international student fees. I need some security so full-time work has always been the objective.
Michael | 23
Ideally, I would like to work a flexible job that I can fit in with my own side projects and work that I want to explore in different industries. I want to be able to build my skills and knowledge in multiple disciples, industries and sectors.
I don’t really see myself working in one industry or career for my whole life and only really learning one skill set. I want to explore and experience all the possibilities out there and build a portfolio of skills
Tanya | 29
I’d probably prefer a Monday to Friday job to begin with to get a bit of stability and be able to keep learning without being overwhelmed with answering to multiple bosses. After a while though, I would prefer to either work for multiple employers or even freelance and start my own business.
Henry | 19
I would prefer a flexible job over a Monday to Friday job in my desired industry. As an aspiring entrepreneur, the flexibility of a job is important to me as it would enable me to work the necessary hours required in order to achieve certain goals at work. Sometimes, this may not be achieved through a rigid, fixed schedule from 9am to 5pm for 5 days a week.
I think it would also effectively decrease work related stress in the sense that you wouldn’t have to rush a certain task in order to get it done by the end of your shift. Likewise, with the necessary discipline, I believe my productivity would be increased through the ability to optimise schedule to complete tasks faster and hence promote a healthier lifestyle through allocating more time to socialise and exercise outside of work.
Bernadette | 26
I think in my situation I do enjoy flexible work. It means that I can pursue other interests outside of my employment, and balance work with my social life. But I know that once I get serious about buying a house or a new car or making any sort of substantial financial investment in my life, I would desire the 9-5 permanent position.
I think it’s easier, when you don’t have anyone to depend on you and have no major commitments, to go with flexible work at all sorts of hours and on all sorts of days. But it’s definitely not sustainable.
Tessa | 19
After I finish my studies I really want to get a steady full-time job that’s in my field. I think the consistency that a full-time job brings is really important for happiness and wellbing, and I would personally like the steady and continuous income. The other reason I preference full-time work is because I think I would enjoy working with the same people everyday and I feel that a full-time job would make it easier to become familiar with the type of work I’ll be doing in my field in the future.
Ari | 26
If work will make up at least forty hours a week of most of my adult life, I want that time to be spent, as much as possible, in a state of professional growth. To be in a standard full-time job I’d prefer to have incentives in the form of promotions and frequent skill expansion, but that depends entirely on whether or not my employer values that too.
With flexible work I can piece together my own incentives. Some full-time single jobs offer that potential, but the key here is also having flexibility: huge opportunities for growth can come from outside industry-specific work, too. Volunteering, freelancing, international experiences, passion projects—these all add to my experience, but fitting around a 9-5 can be challenging.
Roxanne | 26
I did try full-time work during my undergraduate for over a year, but it didn’t suit me as I struggled with the lack of flexibility and with being within just one bubble of the one organisation.
Moving forward I would like multiple jobs that are flexible during and after my studies. This is so I can gain experience in multiple industries, jobs, and work environments – specially coming out of university and not knowing exactly where I want to commit my time. Also the flexibility allows moving between quite different projects.
But I am also lucky to be financially able to look at this option of multiple jobs at this stage of my life, because I have my family’s business as a foundation upon which I can undertake other jobs at the same time. But in the future I may need to re-evaluate and I may need to look at being employed full-time for financial reasons.
James | 27
It really depends on a number of things — first and foremost my goals. I believe that much of the questioning of young professionals and their work-related choices should consider that flexibility is important not just in the workplace, but in lifestyle as a whole. Therefore, I think when considering this whether I want full-time or flexible work (which I do frequently) I often flip between work flexibility and stability based upon my short- and medium-term goals. Being able to find employment that allows me to step from the 9 to 5 into flexibility, and back again, is vital.
It’s important to find that ability to go between employment structures so that one is able to fulfil their current lifestyle needs, but if priorities shift, so can the workplace. This just corresponds to the realities of today’s challenges.
Aaron | 28
At the moment, I am leaning much more towards the idea of flexible work arrangements. I like the idea of both flexibility in how I work but also variety in where I work. But of course this changes depending on your responsibilities, and I am very aware that my preferences could change as I get older. I already find the lack of security in flexible work worrying, but can imagine it is even more so when you decide to buy a house or start a family for example.
While there are mixed views about the benefits of flexible work arrangements, it is clear that young people are concerned about their job stability, and the impacts insecure work have on their future-planning ability.