Australians are more qualified than ever before but concerns have arisen that the number of skilled workers is decreasing, particularly amongst young Australians.
Employers are reporting that whereas young people who have developed skills working in the country are likely to appreciate every dollar they make, those who live and study in more affluent areas and who are used to seeing money, are less willing to get their hands dirty.
Australia Chamber of Commerce and Industry CEO Kate Carnell says that in Australia, many young people in their 20s are coming out of university and training programs with academic or theoretical skills that ultimately leave them “disconnected with the workforce” and lacking in real workplace experience.
Jack Trenamen, a mining contractor and employer in Queensland, says there’s a generation of newcomers to the workforce who are unprepared for work. “They come in late, they don’t realise that they might have to do things they don’t want to and they don’t appreciate the job. They think if they don’t like it here they can just pack up and get another job around the corner, keep chasing that almighty dollar without building their skills.”
Carnell says that many tertiary qualified young people from affluent areas have issues understanding that “a job is about turning up on time every day, not just when you feel like, that it’s about taking direction, and basic things like you’ve got to be well presented and you’ve got to be pleasant.”
“The number of young people not working while they’re in school is one of the problems,” Carnell says. Current ABS unemployment figures show that youth unemployment is at 20 per cent – as high as it has been since June 1997.
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It’s difficult to believe that skilled work in Australia is really under threat. There will always be kids out there training-up to be hairdressers, mechanics, chefs and builders. University study doesn’t suit everyone, and those who prefer skilled, hands-on employment will seek it out.
It’s true that more Australians are more qualified on paper than ever. Some young people are piling qualifications onto their CVs, only to leave university finding that they have very few practical ‘employable ’skills. But their qualifications provide them with skills that are relevant. Far from unskilled, these people get jobs writing government policies, working in newsrooms and assisting with community organisation projects.
Living in Melbourne, one of the most expensive cities in the world, most of the students I knew during my undergrad degree had no choice but to work. These were kids living out of home, supporting themselves through their full-time degrees by working 20-plus hours per week in hospitality, community organisations and internships. They studied for the love of learning and self-development.
There is a growing disconnect between the Australian workforce and the skills that young workers are emerging from the educations system with. As the education level rises, people are increasingly seeking jobs that will satisfy their desires and as their financial needs. Employers, particularly in agricultural and trades sectors, complain that skilled workers are few and far between. This disconnect is ultimately about attitudes – workers want jobs that will fulfill them; employers want inexpensive workers who don’t need training-up.
While youth unemployment is at its highest since 1997, we can’t say it’s for lack of trying that young people aren’t employed – because we all know the current employment problem in this country.
An ABS report from 2013 shows that the labour force has seen some significant changes over the past 30 years. In 1976, over two thirds (71 per cent) of young adults were employed and less than one third (30 per cent) of young adults had obtained a non-school qualification. Only 5 per cent had a bachelor degree or higher qualification.
By contrast, in 2011, 74 per cent of young adults were employed and over half 52 per cent had a non-school qualification. Around a quarter (26%) had a bachelor degree or higher qualification.
Rather than the bleak image we are fed about young Australian university students, what is clear to me is that young Australians are actually working harder than ever before to become qualified for work they will enjoy.
What is your take on this issue? Are young Australians developing new skills to suit our modern society or is there a fundamental mismatch between the qualifications of the Australian workforce and the skills required in the real world?