Work is a challenge for young Australians

A new study shows that the transition to adult life takes longer and is a more complex process for the current generation of young people in Australia. While they often remain in education for longer, they also face less secure job prospects, according to the latest Brotherhood of St Laurence Youth Transition Social Barometer.

'The Brotherhood's Social Barometer: challenges facing Australian youth' by Martina Boese and Rosanna Scutella considers the experiences of young people, particularly the socially excluded or disadvantaged, in areas such as employment, education and training, health, and quality of life.

The study shows that it has become normal for young Australians 'to enter a flexible, unstable, labour market where casual, part-time and short-term employment prevail. It has become increasingly common for young people to combine study and part-time work from an earlier age and there is much more mobility between different patterns of employment. Overall there has been a large shift from full-time to part-time work (more markedly for young women) and a significant increase in casual employment'.

Tony Nicholson, Brotherhood executive director said:

'The days of moving out of home at 18 or 19 and taking up a permanent job are long gone for most. The longer transition to adulthood is often positive because it gives many young people the opportunity to explore their options - they're studying more... and volunteering more, and they have more opportunities to travel. However, these positives are not shared by everyone.'

'The study showed that a worrying 16 per cent of young people between 15 and 19 lived below the poverty line - about the same as in 1990. They live in households that struggle to pay for transport and for items such as textbooks and school excursions - even class photos. They are more likely to be disengaged from the community - not studying or working full-time. They are also more likely to commit suicide. Education and training are crucial foundations for each young person's future career and well-being. Yet students from poorer communities are less likely to do well at school or go on to further study' he continued.

The Social Barometer study indicates that a significant minority of young people face exclusion from mainstream education and employment, with the associated impact on quality of life and health generally. While youth unemployment has fallen overall in the last ten years, this is accounted for by a large increase in part-time work. Some 15 per cent of those aged 15-19 were neither employed nor in full-time education in June 2006. The rate for young women shows an upward trend, and ndigenous young people are significantly less likely to be in full-time work or education.

However, a recently-published analysis of the Longitudinal Survey of Australian Youth by Gary Marks cautions against assuming that those not in full-time work or study after first leaving school are 'at risk'. In 'The Transition to Full-time Work of Young People who do not go to University'(Research Report 49), Marks argues that young people in this group 'are quite diverse and face markedly different circumstances, not all of which are likely to lead to problems in securing full-time employment in the future'.

Marks' analysis shows that, in the first year after leaving school, 61 per cent of young men and 45 per cent of young women were working full-time. A little over half of the young men were also studying part-time. Just over one-third of young women were studying part-time in addition to working and were more likely than young men to be working part-time only (12 per cent compared to 6 per cent), or studying full-time (27 per cent compared to 20 per cent). About 9 per cent of both sexes were unemployed.

Four years after leaving school, 77 per cent of males and 64 per cent of females were working full-time and the type of work had changed: higher proportions of males had moved into professional/managerial and other skilled jobs. Young people also reported generally high levels of satisfaction with their jobs.

Marks argues that these data indicate the 'highly dynamic' nature of the youth labour market in Australia. Most part-time workers are not 'stuck' in part-time work. Over 50 per cent of male part-time workers were in full-time work the following year. He finds that one of the few significant factors relevant to attaining full-time work is participation in apprenticeship schemes. Full-time study in the first year after leaving school did not increase the odds of being in full-time work by the fourth year. Obtaining full-time work soon after leaving school substantially increases the chances of remaining in full-time work.

Similarly, initial experiences of unemployment are associated with an increased likelihood of being unemployed later on. Marks concludes that gaining full-time employment early in the school-to-work transition is critical.

Reference: Marks (2006) Longitudinal Survey of Australian Youth (LSAY) Research Report 49 Australian Council for Educational Research