young man at work packing box high vis shirt

There used to be so many basic jobs, that finding your first job without work experience wasn’t hard. And, critically, it meant that you had some experience of work, when it came time to transition to your ‘next’ job.

My first job was as a warehouse storeman’s assistant, sweeping floors and packing boxes. Although I’m not sweeping floors in my job today, the experience was crucial in giving me an understanding of how employment worked and what bosses expected.

It gave me the motivation to finish school and go to university, it led to other jobs and eventually helped me on my path to becoming CEO of SYC, a not for profit organisation which helps more than 55,000 people each year.

Currently though, one in five young South Australians doesn’t have a job.

The challenges of long-term unemployment for young Australians have been well documented and there are countless plans, schemes and projects to try and address those challenges.

Recently South Australian Education Minister, John Gardner announced a new iteration of school based work experience with the launch of the ‘World of Work Challenge’.

Under the new initiative, junior secondary school students will be incentivised to undertake 100 hours of participation in industry and employer activities and this can include work experience, industry visits, career conversations and vocational work placements.

Initiatives like this are supported by evidence that exposure to work and career conversations have lasting benefits.

Research suggests young adults who have four or more contacts with employers whilst at school are less likely to become NEET (Not in Employment, Education or Training), and can expect, when they are in full-time employment to earn more than their peers who haven’t had the same level of contact.

Young people are also 25 per cent less likely to become NEET if they did four or more, work related learning activities.

We know that early exposure to the world of work is crucial for young people to engage and obtain sustainable employment in their future. But it seems school-based work experience placements are not looked upon positively by some employers.

Indeed, for young people, this is where a first job paradox becomes obvious.

It seems almost every week, there are stories in the media about frustrated employers who can’t find ‘job ready’ staff. Equally vocal are the criticisms of young people who apparently have missed something in their education, because they haven’t got real experience of work.

We recently brought together some of Australia’s biggest employers from the recruitment, hospitality, automotive and banking industries and most agreed that traditional work experience placements were often tedious for both employers and students.

They said students were often not in their job sites long enough to have any meaningful impact and employers had no incentive to devote time in developing them further. Hardly an ideal result.

There is a truism in the employment and recruitment world; people with jobs get jobs.
There’s no work experience that can match real experience of work. But where are the entry level jobs these days for the inexperienced?

SYC is seeing an increasing number of entry level jobs advertised that are specifically asking for ‘experience’.

Compounding the issue is the number of older Australians with experience looking to re-enter the job market who are now applying for the entry level roles, usually associated with young people.

SYC is currently working with large employers across Australia who are participating in solving challenges like these. This will result in the release of a best practice report called ‘My First Job 2.0’ due to be published and shared with key decision makers in July 2020.

This initiative is being led by SYC and the employers – without government funding – and with a real desire to look at tangible solutions to an increasing problem. We’re also looking at the way technology can create opportunities (as well as risks) for young people to connect with entry level jobs.

Providing young people with the opportunity to experience their first job is a crucial part of preparing them for a career.

It’s worth pointing out the obvious. You can’t get your ‘next’ job until you have had your ‘first’ job and there must be a better way to get young Australians into that crucial first position.

CEO Paul Edginton

Paul Edginton