Being a young person is difficult.
From leaving school and becoming a member of adult society and to attempting to find your place in the world, to battling a multitude of insecurities and the seemingly perpetual existential crises that come with facing our fear of rejection, on almost all aspects of the adult playing field.
It can be overwhelming when the ‘simplest’ of things to accomplish — such as learning to cook and clean, to paying bills and finding a job — require a major behavioural adjustment.
I remember being 18, opening up my emails and seeing the one thing that I’d been waiting for since I’d started my VCE (Victorian Certificate of Education). With a subject heading ‘Congratulations’ or something similar, I was so overjoyed as I quickly opened the email from a prestigious Melbourne university. My dream was here.
I couldn’t believe that I’d gotten in (and secretly I felt like I really didn’t deserve it). And as I was excited, the self-doubt I had in my future plan hovered over my every thought on the new life I would start in a matter of weeks.
I’d applied for financial assistance through Youth Allowance weeks before and been knocked back on account of my parents earning too much. I was living in a share house and barely skimming by with the little money my parents could contribute towards rent, bills and food.
We weren’t rich Melbournites from Toorak. We lived in Morwell. I went to a public school.
My mum was a part-time nurse and my dad a full-time tradesman. We weren’t wealthy but we were comfortable.
However, my search for ‘independence’ was stretching the comfort very thin. Quite quickly it became obvious that I would either have to find a job or move home.
With my independence hanging in the balance, I made the decision to try and find work, on top of 12 hours on campus, 16 hours of travelling and 25 hours of home study. What followed were some of the hardest months I’ve ever experienced.
After six months of job hunting, I landed a contract of 14 hours per week. Just enough to pay rent, bills and cook some beans.
Working whilst studying is not a rarity. I’m no snowflake. Unemployment and underemployment are huge issues for young people, not just in the Latrobe Valley and Gippsland, but all over Australia:
— The rate of youth unemployment (15–24-year-olds) in the Latrobe-Gippsland area (21.7%) far exceeds the national percentage (12.6%). 1
— Young people now account for approximately 15% of the workforce compared to 25% in the early 1980s.
— The nature of young people’s employment has also changed: more than half now work part-time, an increase from the 15% seen in the early 1980s.
— Overall, around 55% of young workers were engaged in casual work in 2017.
— The increase in young part-time workers is partially associated with an increase in 15–24-year-olds studying full-time. Full-time employment for youths has decreased by nearly 20% in the last decade alone. 2
Why has employment changed for young people?
A 2016 study by Bishop, Gustaffson and Plumb found evidence suggesting that since the 90s businesses have responded to changes within the economy by changing the hours worked by their employees, rather than the number of employees.
Matthew, a 20-year-old from Traralgon, is well-versed in the fluctuation of hours during the course of a financial year, saying the highest amount of hours he would be given was 15–20 hours, to the lowest of three hours a week. “Around $50… not even enough to fill up my car”, he remarked in our conversation. Matthew says that the inconsistency of wage from week-to-week “can be very stressful”.
Ann is a 22-year-old casual worker from Morwell, who says that she’s been asking her employer for a part-time contract for two years. Ann describes the situation as “a constant change in management”. When asked about her average hours, Ann stated, “It varies from week to week, which I don’t mind if one week I’m doing 20 and then the next I’m doing 15. What is really frustrating though, is whenever management changes, my hours are cut right back as I’m more expensive because of my age. So, I’m constantly having to fight to prove that I’m an asset, just to get the hours I need to survive. At the start, I loved the casual pay rate, but now all I want is a minimum amount of hours that I can bank on… I don’t care if it’s three hours a week, I just want some consistency”.
Shaun from Traralgon says, he’s been looking for work for over a year after his workplace shut down. Studying in Melbourne, Shaun said he “just wanted some casual work on the side”. Although highly qualified for retail, with four years in a supervisory role and a Certificate IV in Business, he said that, “The hardest part is [that] most places who are looking for casual workers want people still in school, not a 23-year-old who is studying and is going to cost them $25 an hour over $19 an hour”.
There is a belief that the transition from consistent full-time employment to casual/part-time employment contracts is due to a range of factors, including the increased cost of hiring and training employees.
According to Labour Outcomes For Younger People (2018), underemployed young people have a preference to work an additional 11 hours on average each week.
Let’s look at the underemployment of young people who have completed their studies.
According to Labour Outcomes, “The rise in underemployment over the past decade is consistent with the increase of 20–24-year-olds who are working part-time and not studying. In part, this may reflect that the transition process between tertiary education and full-time employment has slowed”. Statistics from the 1990s demonstrate that 80% of Bachelor degree graduates (available for full-time work) were able to secure a job within four months.
Statistics from 2018 show 70% of graduates (available for full-time work) secured employment after the same period, and 20% of graduates that were working part-time were seeking more hours.
So, are there any resources our young people can access in order to make finding secure employment easier?
The VRI Hall in Traralgon, a creative community space that was established through crowdfunding in 2013, provides “Workshops and an environment where young people can get hands-on experience, in order to improve their chances of securing employment”, explained their project manager, Joh Lyons. The VRI offers workshops in essential skills for various industries, Joh says they’re, “In touch with government agencies, neighbourhood houses, arts organisations… even Good Shepherd, who has a microfinancing project.
“If you have a structured idea… we’ll provide a space for you to try it out.”
This philosophy enables the VRI to offer a personalised pathway for young people to employment, further training or starting their own small business.
Latrobe Youth Space, located in Morwell’s Mid Valley Shopping Centre, also offers short programs for young people completely free of charge, enabling our youth to gain the necessary foothold in order to establish themselves.
“We offer all free programs to help young people to gain confidence and explore their interests while feeling supported and secure”, explains Danica, a youth worker for Latrobe Youth Space. The space offers a number of programs that aims to “diminish stereotypes and create a place where the youth of Latrobe City can flourish”.
While dealing with the evolving workplace may be tough, remember, you’re not the only person facing these changes — don’t give up!
3 Bishop J, L Gustafsson and M Plumb (2016), ‘Jobs or Hours? Cyclical Labour Market Adjustment in Australia’, RBA Research Discussion Paper No 2016-06.
Here are some suggestions to help get you to where you want to be:
Endeavour to meet new people.
A lot of job opportunities come through networking. This can be done by joining an established group in your community and doing something that you’re interested in. You can start putting the word out that you’re looking for work, plus you might also make some new friends.
If you have a particular skill or passion, do some research and see whether you can turn your idea in to a small business or an additional income stream.
Do a short course or a workshop (it doesn’t have to be a university degree). Any skill will add value to your employability and your personal development.