Public Interactive Learning Labs – Youth Unemployment

Last year we decided to run a series of workshops that would help researchers to discuss their research and engage with the public in an interactive way. We called the workshops Public Interactive Learning Labs (PiLLs). At the end of each Lab we collated videos of the researchers’ presentations and we wrote short summaries of the event, including the public feedback and engagement. Some of the outcomes are available elsewhere but now we are putting all four events here in a series of four blogs. At about 10 mins each the videos are well worth watching!

Youth Unemployment PiLL

1: Young People & the Labour Market by Dr Dina Bowman:

2: Perceptions of youth unemployment by Prof Paul Kofman :

3: What do young people want from a job by Dr Dan Woodman :

4: Youth, risk, and labour market policy by Shirley Jackson :

5: Summary by Dr Kate Neely:


Australian’s want more support and less demonization of young people looking for work.

Australia should move towards a model of free tertiary education and universal basic income along with paid work internships and improved ‘pathways’ between education and work.

Youth unemployment rates are generally of concern for the broader public. When it is high or on the increase it becomes an election issue. Dr Dina Bowman explained that the statistics that are used to provide unemployment rates can be presented in a variety of ways and the groups that we traditionally see as youth, fifteen to twenty-four year olds, may be expanding as young people find it harder to gain full-time employment with an undergraduate degree.  Shirley Jackson showed that it takes an average of four years and eight months to find full time work after education. While participation rates for teenagers (the number of fifteen to nineteen year olds who want work) is quite low at just over fifty percent; the number of those who want to work but are unemployed is quite high, at just under twenty percent. Dr Dan Woodman explained that many of the forty percent of teenagers who are employed are not finding as much work as they would like, and are therefore under-employed which is also problematic.

Professor Paul Kofman explained that underemployment and media negativity is affecting young people, and specifically that Australian youth are amongst the most pessimistic in the world about their chances of having the future that they want. Paul indicated that the level of gloom amongst our young people contrasted sharply with the statistics showing that we are in a better situation than most other countries. While there are jobs being created in Australia and there are jobs that young people can take up, many of them are not in areas that are considered to be ‘lifetime trades’ but are more likely to be insecure retail and hospitality positions.  This all comes down to an acknowledgement that the full time job for a fifteen year old man does NOT exist anymore.

While it is uncontroversial that young people want employment, Dr Dan Woodman has been exploring what sort of employment young people want. His results indicate that young people are most concerned about having secure work and would prefer full-time jobs to part-time employment. This generation is less concerned with positional status than previous generations but are demanding more flexible work hours. The surprise is that for a generation who are concerned about job security and pay and conditions, they have little truck with the unions that might bring about the conditions that they want. While many young people are working and studying at the same time the reward for investing in tertiary education takes a long time. The audience noted that there seems to be an unrealistic expectation by employers of not needing to train young employees and that they will arrive with all the skills that they need. On this basis, and in reflecting on the rise unpaid internships as a ‘rite of passage’, the audience decided that an education to employment pathway that included paid internships would be a positive step forward in policy. This would also avoid the trap of only those young people who can afford an unpaid internship getting a continuing secure position.

Shirley Jackson works with young people around understanding their rights and responsibilities with regard to employment. He discussed two different ways that unemployment is perceived globally; Activation, the Australian model for labour market policy, is aimed at reducing benefits and pushing people into the labour market regardless of the availability of jobs. Activation is often associated with a rhetoric of demonization of the unemployed as lazy and dole-bludging. Another model is Active labour market policy which aims to reduce structural unemployment, grow skills and increase social inclusion. This model is applied in many of the Nordic countries. While these countries have higher youth unemployment rates than Australia currently has, the length of unemployment period tends to be significantly shorter with young people generally unemployed for less than six months. These countries have a pattern of skills matching, free tertiary education and adequate (rather than austere) living allowances for the unemployed, paid for through higher taxation.

The model of Active labour market policy appealed to the audience, despite the higher youth unemployment rates experienced under this model. It was perceived that the benefits of dealing with structural factors and supporting young people into work rather than blaming them for their inability to find a job would be more constructive in the long term than the Activation model. It was seen that having the skills to work, and therefore being employable and maintaining good self-esteem and mental health could be key factors in avoiding long term unemployment. On the question of whether ‘any job’ was better than ‘no job’ there was concern that some  jobs are in fact exploitative, but that in the most part getting any job is the start of a positive cycle of employment for young people who then develop skills, networks and economic capital. It was noted that young people face extra difficulties in seeking employment if they live in a regional area, have a disability or are indigenous or from a non-English speaking background. The audience tended to agree that extra support should be extended to young people in these situations.