Understanding and Awareness of First Jobs
10 Mar 2021
What did you want to be when you grew up?
It is something many of us remember. The strong desire to be a Police Officer or a Fire Fighter. At an early age we are exposed to certain jobs and industries more than others. This could be because they are the jobs your parents do or something you saw repeatedly in popular culture. Over time that idea might have changed as new influences came into your life before ultimately you entered the world of work and started working towards your dreams.
The influences present during a young person’s formative years are a crucial factor in shaping their perception of the type of jobs available but if those influences are not varied and backed up with good quality information, they can stifle a young person’s opportunities. This is why improving the Understanding and Awareness of First Jobs was a key recommendation from the My First Job Working Group. There will always be a need for new jobs to be created, but the working group also stressed that many industries are forecast to have a large skills shortage. This was being felt most keenly in the technology sector, but it is also evident in other sectors such as trades and healthcare and social assistance.
To help address these shortages the working group identified that more needed to be done to create a greater level of awareness around where jobs are likely to be available, the skills needed for those jobs, and the pathways to enter those jobs was seen as necessary to provide young people the best chance to gain employment in the future. In effect, there is a need to broaden the range of factors that influence a young person when they consider the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?” This relies on engagement with schools, parents and other key people who can influence a young person’s decision-making.
Giving young people better tools to decide what they want to be when they are older was just one aspect of this theme. It was made clear that awareness was a key attribute for employers, particularly around understanding their future business needs, building a business case around employing young people and then investing in strategies and activities to ensure young people are aware of the opportunities in their sector. Employers need to understand how young people are vital to their future success and develop strategies to engage with those young people.
Finally, as the working group unpacked the idea of improving awareness and understanding of first jobs there was recognition that a level of cultural change was necessary in Australia. At all levels of society, more awareness was needed around the scale of the issue of youth unemployment and the ramifications of not addressing the issue. When the group were provided examples around the level of young people currently engaged in employment services, their likelihood of being unemployed compared to other disadvantaged groups, and the emerging data around the importance of early intervention e.g. completing Year 12 is the best way to ensure a young person gets a job, their commitment and resolve to do something about the issue grew. Developing ways to instill that same commitment and resolve in the broader public, through raising awareness of the issue, was seen as important to achieving long-term cultural change in Australia.
To achieve the goals of the Understanding and Awareness of First Jobs theme the Working Group came up with six initial recommendations for action:
1. Improve the visibility of where demand challenges exist in the workforce and then create targeted skills programs to better match and help more young people enter those fields
There are many skills gaps forecast in certain industries, which could provide significant first job opportunities for young people, but it relies on young people knowing what roles will be available, the skills required, and the various pathways they can take to access those roles. There is significant research that has engaged with young people that highlights a lack of access to this necessary information despite significant investment in developing tools and websites. This shows there is a disconnect between what information young people want and how they want to access it and the platforms currently available to provide this information.
The current range of resources that can provide information for young people on future career options should be reviewed to ensure they meet the current best practice in design for engaging young people in decision-making. To improve their decision-making around career choices young people need access to information that is timely, relevant and structured in a way that reflects how they make decisions. Websites and tools need to be able to assess where the young person is at in their decision-making journey and provide relevant information at a frequency that young people can actually use the information.
2. Overhaul Career Advice and Guidance in Australia and establish a minimum level of engagement in career building activities during school
When young people have access to career guidance there is evidence that they have improved motivation to try hard at school because they understand the connection between education and getting a good job. There is also evidence access to high quality career guidance better aligns career expectations with less concentration around occupations. This is vital to ensure we avoid an expectations gap between what young people want to do and expect work to be like and what jobs are available and working is actually like.
Develop a Nationally Consistent Framework that ensures each young person has access to quality career advice by age 14. Research has shown that effective career advice and guidance can help young people to better understand the connection between education and employment, broaden their career aspirations and choices, and support them to better understand the pathway to achieve their goals14. To realise this a young people needs access to quality guidance as well a coherent programme of related activities that are delivered over the course of their time in school.
3. Create opportunities for young people to engage with peer career conversations, particularly through young speakers in schools
Research has found that if young people participate in career talks at age 14-15 then they can experience significantly better earnings by age 26. These career talks provide young people with more information which broadens their understanding of the labour market, the type and availability of work and the pathways into specific occupations. The Working Group saw benefits in utilising younger employees to facilitate career conversations who were closer to peer level with young people in education. This would potentially increase the usefulness and relevance of the information provided because the young employees had recently made the same decisions and could comment more directly on pathways into education and employment.
Increasing the demand for access to employees for career conversations could see digital platforms, such as Zoom, help to facilitate virtual employer engagement. Virtual workshops could bring together employers and employees from a range of industries to provide young people with a brief overview of their industry, as well as their own roles, responsibilities and personal career journey, and explain the skills and qualifications that new entrants to the industry would need. A specialist platform could effectively create a database of willing employer participants or career ambassadors, which schools, young people and Career Guidance practitioners can select from to arrange career conversation opportunities. The Working Group stressed the importance of a diversity of career conversation opportunities so young people can see themselves reflected in the stories. This included bringing back former students or people from the area who have now found success because it creates a connection with the young person and shows that they can do it too.
4. Revitalise Work Experience opportunities for young people
A lack of experience remains one of the most highly cited challenges by young people who are seeking employment. A revised approach to Work Experience in schools could provide more opportunity for young people to build their skills, but also provide employers more confidence that the young person has been able to demonstrate certain key employability skills.
The Working Group proposed that the National school curriculum is changed to include young people taking part in a careers subject in Year 9 at school with work experience a key focus. To support this program schools would need additional resources for career counsellors who liaise and support businesses. Policy decisions would also need to be made to streamline occupational health and safety requirements for work experience and clearly outline what activities are allowable during a work experience placement. This would provide business with more certainty around what young people can and cannot do.
5. Encourage employers to engage in workforce planning and development to understand the value of having a constant supply of new, young employees
When recruiting, many employers engage in ‘short-termism’ that places more emphasis on recruits with previous experience or higher qualifications than might be necessary. Working Group members discussed the risk involved with every new hire and the need for staff to be productive, which is emphasised during a downturn. The approach taken by many employers to mitigate that risk is to only recruit people who are perceived as being immediately productive rather than those who could form the workforce of the future. This focus on immediate benefits ignores the potential return an employer can receive from a longer-term investment in their workforce. Shifting that mindset is key to increasing opportunities for young people.
Provide an ongoing bank of resources and success stories from employers who have successfully employed young people in their workforce. Employers need access to resources, including case studies, which document the benefits of employing young people and adopting a long-term workforce planning perspective instead of engaging in short-termism. Analysis projects should also be established in a similar vein to research on the impact of gender and cultural diversity on firm performance. This would attempt to quantify the benefit to performance from employing young people based on financial performance, efficiency and other metrics.
6. Engage in a National campaign aimed at changing the culture around youth employment in Australia
Changing the culture around employing young people in Australia was highlighted as a crucial factor in achieving long-term success in improving youth employment. Employers need to see value in employing young people whilst a community expectation that young people are provided opportunities to succeed in the workplace would help drive a shift in how jobs are designed, offered and supported.
To change the culture around youth employment in Australia the Working Group proposed that an independent entity should be established to develop and implement a national advocacy campaign. Building on the successful model of other advocacy campaigns, such as smoking and drink driving, the campaign would take a long-term view to changing attitudes and decisions.
By making progress in these areas young people will have access to more information when making decisions on their careers, including from other young people who have recently become employed. Employers will actively participate in developing their future workforce, identifying opportunities for young people to create connections with them to create connections to the next generation of workers. The culture around youth employment in Australia will also be changed because people realise what is at stake, but also understand that progress can be made.