The OECD report, Dream Jobs? Teenagers Career Aspirations and the Future of Work, found that two in five Australian students expected to work in one of ten occupations by the age of 30 (52% of girls/42% of boys). The study essentially found that it is jobs with origins in the 20th century or earlier that are most attractive to young people rather than jobs of the future.
The report concluded; ‘that increasingly the expectations of young people may be out of date and unrealistic. Over the period of the greatest accumulation of human capital during a lifetime, the data indicate that many young people are intent on pursuing jobs that they have little chance of securing’.
A number of Australian studies using Longitudinal Survey of Australian Youth (LSAY) and the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) data draw the same conclusions; that young people do not have a full appreciation of the types of jobs available to them, resulting in their career aspirations falling within a narrow set of occupations, not all of which are realistic, and which have been narrowing further over time. The top three expected occupations for young women were registered nurse, solicitor and primary school teacher, while for young men the top three occupations were engineering professional, policeman and electrician.
Studies out of the UK and New Zealand conclude that teenager’s career aspirations are shaped at much earlier ages, between 7 and 11 years of age. These studies further link current labour market skill mismatches to the career aspirations of primary school children and further conclude that there is ‘nothing in common’ between young people’s career aspirations and the reality of the labour market.
These findings are even more concerning when considered in conjunction with other studies which detail the deep anxiety that young Australians are feeling (prior to COVID-19). The 2019 Mission Australia Youth Survey found that mental health was the most significant issue for young people in Australia today, for the third year running. The cumulative effect of a range of stresses reported by young Australians; anxiety about their ability to find meaningful work, financial insecurity, equity and discrimination, lack of affordable housing, rising cost of living, the environment and climate change and the sustainability of their lifestyle, is having a deep impact on young Australians well-being.
These anxieties are further linked to the competition for jobs, inadequate education and training and a lack of skills and experience. Young Australians want to be given a fair chance and a fair go when seeking employment. At the same time, young people fear working in a job they are not interested in or passionate about. They feel they only have one chance to end up in a career they want, they feel their opportunities are limited, they feel they are not progressing and they are struggling to navigate a career path in a rapidly changing world for work.
An OECD Youth Voice for the Future of Work study of 19 of the G20 nations found that the only 39% of young Australians were confident they would be able to find a job they really wanted to do. Compared with a 50% average, Australia ranked 14th out of 19.
Reports from the Foundations for Young Australians, the 2019 Mission Australia Youth Survey and analysis of Longitudinal Survey of Australian Youth (LSAY) data all find that young Australians lack confidence about their working futures. Young people report being affected by stress and anxiety when looking for work, less than half are confident in their ability to achieve their work and study goals, despite almost all intending to complete year 12. Almost half report there are barriers to achieving their post-school aspirations, young women more so than young men, and that the top three barriers young people consider to be impacting their goals after finishing school were academic ability, mental health and financial difficulty. The top three perceived barriers to finding suitable employment are a lack of work experience, a lack of jobs and lack of the right education and/or training. They also believed their age was a barrier to employment.
Young people’s potential to achieve their dreams and aspirations may be further compromised by confusion about how education and qualifications are related to jobs and careers. A key indicator of young people’s capacity to understand and progress in the labour market is the extent to which their educational and occupational aspirations are aligned. However, numerous Australian studies have found that there is considerable confusion relating to educational pathways and their alignment with occupations. For young Australians responding to another OECD survey, less than one in ten believed that school had prepared them for adult working life, they do not feel supported by their education system. Nearly half fear that their skills or knowledge won’t be in demand in the future. Australia’s result was the 7th lowest of 19 countries compared with the average of 26%.
Prior to COVID-19, over half the Australian workforce comprised jobs in health care, social and personal services, administration, sales and hospitality. The Department of Employment, Education and Skills projected that labour demand would continue to grow in these areas to 2024, distributed between high and low skill jobs.
However, the COVID-19 global pandemic has, and will continue to, reshape the Australian labour market and the underlying industry structure for years to come, making projections of the past almost obsolete. Jobs of the future will now be dependent on the decisions taken today in relation to economic, industry, social, industrial relations and education and training policies and how they each intersect.
The implications of these misalignments between educational aspirations, career aspirations and the reality of the labour market are far reaching. The recent BCA’s The Modern Worker – a guide to what employers want, comprehensively sets out the requirements of the future workforce from an employer’s perspective, but fails to align these needs with the considerable evidence relating to the needs, desires, concerns and values of young Australians and their aspirations for work and life. In fact, the predictions of the future of work; the type and how people engage in work, is not necessarily what the future generation of workers want. This will have implications for employers in attracting and retaining workers. And for the future workforce, this misalignment is causing deep anxiety.
Add to this challenge, over one in five Tasmanians start grade 7 below or at the minimum national standard for reading. We need to reverse the trend of setting our young children up to fail from primary school.