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Is job insecurity becoming the norm for young people?

In recent years, job insecurity among young people has risen to unsettling proportions. Last year, The Economist reported that as many as 290 million 15-24 year olds were not participating in the labour…

The future for young workers is looking less secure, with casual work taking hold. shutterstock.com

In recent years, job insecurity among young people has risen to unsettling proportions. Last year, The Economist reported that as many as 290 million 15-24 year olds were not participating in the labour market — “nearly as large as the population of America”.

According to the International Labour Organisation, 73.4 million young people – 12.6% – were expected to be out of work in 2013, an increase of 3.5 million between 2007 and 2013. Alongside this figure is “a proliferation of temporary jobs and growing youth discouragement in advanced economies; and poor quality, informal, subsistence jobs in developing countries”.

In Australia, the figures are less pronounced but still striking. As the Independent Inquiry into Insecure Work pointed out, casual work is concentrated among young people. One fifth of all casual workers are aged 15-19 and from 2001 to 2011 the prevalence of casual work increased significantly for this age group and to some extent for 20-24 year olds for the period, but far less for older age groups. Underemployment, defined by the ABS as part-time workers who are available to do more work, rose significantly following the global financial crisis and this trend has not abated.

Trends in youth employment

Five trends are worth noting. First, since the 1980s the number of full-time job opportunities for teenagers has been steadily declining.

Second, there has been an increase in the uptake of casual and part time work by young people in general (aged 15-24). As I have written elsewhere in The Conversation, many want to work more but are unable to do so.

Third, beyond the impact of economic downturns like the financial crisis, globalisation is creating challenges for young people seeking work in Australia. As Bob Birrell and Ernest Healy pointed out last year, young working holiday makers from overseas are intensifying competition for jobs with young local workers. Particularly vulnerable are those “without post-school education, who are seeking less skilled, entry-level jobs.”

The stark nature of competition for jobs globally is best illustrated in the book The Global Auction. The authors note a German website advertising “cleaning, clerical, and catering jobs…offered by employers with a maximum price for the job; those looking for employment then underbid each other, and the winner was the person willing to work for the lowest wages”. In a highly competitive global labour market, could this be the future of working life?

Fourth, Birrell and Healy also highlight that a growing share of local workers aged 55 and over are staying in the workforce. Between May 2003 and May 2013, the share of those aged 60-64 in the workforce increased from 39% to 54%. This increasing competition for work particularly affects young people who are qualified but lack experience.

The final trend arises from a global mismatch between skills and jobs. A number of business surveys confirm the perception that young people are underprepared for working life – ranging from foundational skills in literacy and numeracy, to soft skills such as communication and problem solving. The need to better develop these skills – though valuable – could also reflect a wider need to prepare young people for a world of insecure work. Serving as a kind of adversity capital that enables young people to be more adaptive, flexible and resilient, they also reflect the need to prepare young people for more fluid working lives in which the conventional notion of a career is obsolete.

Secure work doesn’t always await people ending their post school study. Shutterstock.com

Is full-time work becoming out of reach for young people?

Working life in general is increasingly competitive and “fluid”. The rate of casualisation across the Australian workforce increased from 18.9% in 1988 to around 25% in 2012. The levels of “non permanent” work and extent of casualisation are hotly contested, with many claiming casual work is valued by young people. It is argued, for example, that “casuals do not want to lose their flexibility or their casual loading”, or that casual work is preferred “as it allows [casual workers] to take part in the workforce and balance family responsibilities or study commitments”.

But a question arises as to whether secure work awaits those ending their post-school study and training. Teenagers in part time jobs are statistically only slightly more likely to move into full-time employment than those who are unemployed and since the latter half of the 1980s, the age at which young people enter full-time work has increased. Increasing levels of education amongst young people overall mean that those with poor education outcomes are likely to struggle in the labour market, but insecurity is not confined to those without sufficient qualifications.

There is no doubt that some young people prefer casual and part-time work because of the benefits that flexibility offers. But in the overarching context of labour market change, while things do get better past the age of 25, it would appear that for many, the option to secure full-time work is out of reach.


This is the second piece in our Insecure work series. Click on the links below to read the other pieces.

Workplace ‘flexibility’ on insecure ground

Viewpoints: should penalty rates be abolished?

Online labour marketplaces: job insecurity gone viral?

Join the conversation

39 Comments sorted by

  1. Stephen Ralph

    carer

    Perhaps as time goes on globalisation will become nationalisation again, and the European Union will cease to exist.

    What does this say for economic strategies over the past decade.....not much.

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    1. Tom Fisher

      Editor and Proofreader

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      HA! Next step is the Pan-Asian Union, and the trans-Siberian routes and restoration of the old Silk Road.

      And in all that ecology and ancient adaptive strategies will come back into play.

      The problem in current thinking is not that any of this is difficult, but that reality is confronting.

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  2. Brad Farrant

    Adjunct Research Fellow in Early Childhood Development at University of Western Australia

    Thanks for the article Lucas.

    It seems that not only is the gap between rich and poor widening but so is the gap between old and young. Yet society seems to blame poor young people for the predicament they find themselves in and their reaction to it.

    We need to do much better as society in providing for our young people.

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    1. Lucas Walsh

      Associate Professor and Associate Dean (Berwick), Faculty of Education at Monash University

      In reply to Brad Farrant

      There is a persistently negative representation of young people in mainstream media, as well as in surveys of business and recruitment. For example, a fairly recent study of employers expressed dissatisfaction with young people’s business and customer awareness, self-management skills and problem solving abilities, as well as their literacy and numeracy skills. Another survey found that employers rated poor reliability and a lack of long-term commitment amongst their top reasons for negative experiences…

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    2. Troy Howard

      Mechanic

      In reply to Brad Farrant

      Hi Brad,
      Its not only the young, you can only get a casual job if that's all that is being offered. I'm not convinced that most people are casual by choice but rather that's all they can get.

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    3. Brad Farrant

      Adjunct Research Fellow in Early Childhood Development at University of Western Australia

      In reply to Lucas Walsh

      Thanks for your reply Lucas.

      Yes I can well understand why young people would reject conditions that are inferior to those experienced by older people and also why you wouldn't give loyalty to an employer when loyalty to employees is largely a thing of the past.

      I think we need a greater emphasis on reducing all kinds of inequality as it seems is starting to appear in the USA. Why should young people accept gross inequality as a starting point? I can already hear the howls of justification along the lines of "back in my day". Hardly a good enough reason for things getting worse for young people.

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    4. Brad Farrant

      Adjunct Research Fellow in Early Childhood Development at University of Western Australia

      In reply to Troy Howard

      I absolutely agree Troy, I just touched on the broader inequality issues in my reply to Lucas. I don't think we should accept that more insecure employment is at all necessary or desirable.

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    5. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Brad Farrant

      Having a large number of part-time jobs is a godsend, and the main reason we agreed to move back to Australia. We were against coming back due to shocking decline in schooling, but were finally convinced by the ease with which both of us could find good part-time jobs, so one of us would always be able to not work fulltime, and thus raise our kids ourselves, instead of farming them out to some strangers battery-hen "long day care" centre. If you think Australians don't like the part-time option you haven't spoken to any. As for your claims about kids and casual employment, you are wrong again. Kids with casual jobs do not want full-time jobs because they are still at school, living at home with mum and/or dad. The money from the casual jobs goes on snowboarding, i-phone gossiping, cans of UDL, and jeans that cost $250 a pair, but still show their bumcrack,

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    6. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Lucas Walsh

      "For example, a fairly recent study of employers expressed dissatisfaction with young people’s business and customer awareness, self-management skills and problem solving abilities, as well as their literacy and numeracy skills."
      Indeed, the latter are confirmed by objective, international assessment like PISA, while the decline in people skills shows that all those silly and tedious "group assignments" are not working.

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    7. Brad Farrant

      Adjunct Research Fellow in Early Childhood Development at University of Western Australia

      In reply to Andy Cameron

      Andy,

      If you re-read my posts you will see that I didn't talk about part-time jobs.

      My points relate to the downsides of increasing inequality and insecure employment.

      As Lucas stated in the article regarding the uptake of casual and part time work by young people - many want to work more but are unable to do so.

      I don't think it is helping anybody when people work 50+ hours per week and I think it is great when people can work part time and spend more time with the children/family and friends etc. But we shouldn't ignore the difficulties experienced by young people and others when they have insecure employment or can't get enough hours to make ends meet.

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    8. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Brad Farrant

      Brad the article is not about "increasing inequality" (whatever that is), and your use of the new vested-interest trope "insecure employment" does include part-time work. Of course it does, it was invented by the trade union movement, which the Australian people have fled in droves since the Hawkeating years - current membership is about 15%. So whenever you hear "insecure employment" you are heating a recruitment spiel from the ACTU.

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    9. Tom Fisher

      Editor and Proofreader

      In reply to Brad Farrant

      In saying this, Brad, assuming you are working from data it has to be said too that beyond the gap between old and young "society", in failing to see the link, blames poor old quite as much as poor young.

      Why poor, and why old and young?

      We might catch up on this sometime.

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    10. Tom Fisher

      Editor and Proofreader

      In reply to Brad Farrant

      Guys, is what you are talking about all the job you get, or all the food you get, or water, or a roof over your head and a bed to sleep in?

      Back in my day? Mate, I have spent my life avoiding not "back in my day" but "forward in your day."

      It's not about things getting worse for young people, but what is "worse". What does that mean? It's not us making anything "worse".

      Young Westerners today are better off than anyone in history, unconscionably so; at risk of obesity and diabetic and heart…

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    11. Tom Fisher

      Editor and Proofreader

      In reply to Brad Farrant

      The upside of "increasing inequality and insecure employment" is a pointy stick up your arse, getting you moving.

      The downside of equality and secure employment, as we see day by day, is obesity and diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

      Who ever said life has to be comfortable and easy?

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    12. In reply to Lucas Walsh

      Comment removed by moderator.

    13. Troy Howard

      Mechanic

      In reply to Lucas Walsh

      "young people are reciprocating by rejecting conventional loyalty to employers"
      With few employers showing anything resembling loyalty it's a bit rich for employers to expect it in return.

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    14. Troy Howard

      Mechanic

      In reply to Andy Cameron

      Andy, I currently work casually with many young people 18 - 24 in this demographic excluding those going to university nearly all would swap it for full time stable employment.
      I agree my 17 y/o son and 16 y/o daughter are happy working for fast food chain but they are still at school.
      This as I read it is about what happens after they leave school and enter the workforce as a fulltime prospect.

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    15. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Troy Howard

      Troy, well maybe my observations have been of a very unrepresentative sample. So are you saying, even though we've experienced an excellent increase in retaining kids right through to the end of Year 12, gaining a Higher School Certificate, there is a group of those kids who don't [at the moment] want to continue with anymore education, whether VET or uni? And it these kids who are finding it hard getting anything more than casual work?

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    16. Brad Farrant

      Adjunct Research Fellow in Early Childhood Development at University of Western Australia

      In reply to Andy Cameron

      Andy,

      Are you seriously arguing that casual employment is secure employment?

      Part time work is different from casual work in terms of the confidence around work hours and wages.

      I am not interested in the old unions vs employers agument, it is very tired and past its use by date.

      What I care about is quality of life and there is no doubt that, for a lot of people including many young people, that casual work is associated with more financial stress and other adverse economic, social and personal problems.

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    17. Brad Farrant

      Adjunct Research Fellow in Early Childhood Development at University of Western Australia

      In reply to Tom Fisher

      Tom,

      The relationship between "inequality and insecure employment" and "obesity and diabetes and cardiovascular disease" amongst developed countries goes the other way - increased inequality is associated with increased obesity etc.

      "Obesity, diabetes mortality, and calorie consumption were associated with income inequality in developed countries. Increased nutritional problems may be a consequence of the psychosocial impact of living in a more hierarchical society."

      http://jech.bmj.com/content/59/8/670.full

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    18. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Troy Howard

      Interesting Troy. I remember when I finished Year 12, there were a lot of options for going straight into full-time work, though all the better ones required part-time attendance at TAFE for up to four years. White collar jobs as "clerks (or "clerical assistants" if you only had Year 10) were going at places like AMP, Westpac, the Public Service. More tech jobs at the utilities and telecommunications companies. Also, they started taking on apprentice tradies, who had their HSC. I had casual jobs…

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    19. Troy Howard

      Mechanic

      In reply to Andy Cameron

      Good questions Andy.
      Many of these kids (use that term loosely) have been working with the company through high school and have continued on doing so after graduation. It is to be noted that several have more than three years service. Whilst they say they are looking for something better or full time it is hard to quantify what they term individually as better. My current casual employer does take on large numbers of young people so in that way is better than most but the fulltime job seems to be the prime goal.
      There does seem to be a gap in expectation and reality both on what employees expect and what employers demand. It's difficult to fault a young person for expecting better when that's what we have bought them up to expect both from us and themselves.

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    20. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Troy Howard

      I had casual jobs with the very first company who employed me as casual (Thursday night/Saturday mornings, plus holiday work if lucky) at age 15 (Year 9) right up to the start of my second uni degree, at four of its different locations. But I would never have thought of working their full-time. Do these kids with three years casual experience want to go full-time with that particular employer?

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    21. Troy Howard

      Mechanic

      In reply to Andy Cameron

      Some are hoping that it will happen but jobs are thin on the ground full stop even for those with formal qualifications. Entry level jobs with any sort of career expectation are nigh on impossible to find, it seems to be a case of not what but who you know.

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  3. Dale Bloom

    Analyst

    This is becoming a problem for young men.

    ABS figures show women are increasing their employment in part time work in every age group.

    http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/7d12b0f6763c78caca257061001cc588/858badad39afb98dca2571b000153d73!OpenDocument

    There is simply not enough money to pay bills by working part time or casual work, and a casual worker may not even get a bank loan with that type of employment.

    This means young men are going to have to find full time and permanent employment to get enough money to run a family.

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    1. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      This pattern has coninued from your data source, till the present day. Basically, the rise in % part-time has followed almost exactly the increase in the female participation rate. Basically, women in two-income households with children prefer to work fulltime while the kids are young. Dad works full-time, so mum's income is really a lot hire than her part-time income. She also has access to 50% of Dad's full-time income.

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    2. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Andy Cameron

      There isn’t much data beyond 2006 it seems, but in this report, only 20% of women working part time preferred to work longer hours.

      http://www.aifs.gov.au/institute/pubs/factssheets/ssbrochure08/ssbrochure08.html

      This means the father is very much required to be the main breadwinner.

      But if there is a high level of part time work, then employers will begin to regard part time or casual work as being the norm.

      This makes it even more difficult for young men to get permanent employment with some job security (which they need to run a family).

      It should be noted that the second largest employer in the US is actually a labour hire company (or temporary work provider), and that company hires out people on an hourly basis, with minimal job security.

      http://washingtonexaminer.com/recovery-woes-americas-second-largest-employer-is-a-temp-agency/article/2532778

      Such labour hire companies seem to be growing in Australia as well.

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  4. Tom Fisher

    Editor and Proofreader

    Overall I think the commentary diverges too far away from 'job insecurity' to 'the young'.

    I say that reflexively because the idea of job insecurity is what caught my eye. I may be wrong, except that like a lot of pieces here, and I have pointed this out often enough, the gap between one and another makes a bad article and worse commentary.

    And in consequence unjustifiably polarised debate.

    If we are to be talking about 'job insecurity', it must be said that in terms of sustainability and…

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    1. Brad Farrant

      Adjunct Research Fellow in Early Childhood Development at University of Western Australia

      In reply to Tom Fisher

      Tom,

      No one is saying that there weren't people in previous generations who did it tough.

      The point is, that considering the immense wealth of our current society and the many privileges experienced by the wealthy, we should be able to do better than to have so many people living in poverty and uncertainty because of increased job insecurity.

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  5. Robert McDougall

    Small Business Owner

    so it appears it is hard for people under 25 to get full time work, almost as hard as it is to get work if your over 40 and don't have a degree. so if you actually want a career, it seems 25-40 is your window.

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    1. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Robert McDougall

      Robert, it sure sounds like if you leave education at the HSC level, you are destined to be stuck in the casual job market, if you want to work full-time. Takeaway? Everybody should get some further education, but in practical, work-relevant skill sets, NOT joining the "demand-driven" bandwagon to university.

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    2. Brad Farrant

      Adjunct Research Fellow in Early Childhood Development at University of Western Australia

      In reply to Andy Cameron

      Andy,

      This isn't restricted to people who don't have further education. There is an overall push to employee people on short term contracts or on a casual basis. There are less and less permanent full time jobs because of excessive focus on profits over people.

      Survey results out to today show 55% of Australians are concerned about job security (up 8% in 18 months).

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    3. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Brad Farrant

      Brad, there is no evidence of any such thing. You are just repeating union propaganda, which has started. People LIKE being able to work casual hours (all that loading) and part-time.

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    4. Brad Farrant

      Adjunct Research Fellow in Early Childhood Development at University of Western Australia

      In reply to Andy Cameron

      Andy,

      So you think the economists are wrong - "Economists are warning an increase of casual and part-time work means Australia's unemployment rate is higher than we think... It is estimated that 35 per cent of Australia's workforce is now employed on a casual or contract basis."

      http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-06-12/australia-casual-workforce-masking-unemployment-figures/4749900

      I also suggest that you speak for yourself rather than for everyone else Andy. 55% of Australians are concerned about decreased job security - "Concern over job security has increased substantially since the last time the question was polled, increasing 8 points from 47% in August 2012 to 55%"

      http://essentialvision.com.au/job-security-10

      The evidence indicates that it is you that is trying to spread propaganda Andy.

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