Churned and burned: the challenges facing young job seekers 


The new-look jobs market with its lack of security can have serious effects on the health and wellbeing of young job seekers. So what can we do to help them grasp their opportunities while sidestepping the pitfalls of stress and anxiety?

Back in the mid-1980s, young people moving from school, college or university into the workplace took an average of one year to find full-time work. Today, the wait is closer to five years. During that time, young job seekers will churn their way through various roles, including plenty of casual and part-time work.

Right now, 30 per cent of young people are either looking for work or looking for more work.

Unemployment and the relatively newer phenomenon of under-employment aren't just economic issues for the people experiencing them: they can have detrimental effects on mental and physical wellbeing, too. Getting a secure job is a developmental milestone. Failing to get one can impact family and personal relationships and hinder what should be a growing sense of independence.

Jan Owen is the CEO of the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) which recently published the third report in its The New Work Order series. Titled The New Work Mindset, it takes a deep look at the challenges for young people both now and in the future.

"There is a skills mismatch between what the current and future labour market needs and what qualifications young people have," says Owen. "That's along with the fact that there are simply just not enough jobs to go around."

Young Workers

Technology: enabler and challenger


Advances in technology have proven to be a mixed blessing for job seekers. As the FYA notes, technology has positive impacts: it enables greater work flexibility and lowers barriers to entrepreneurship and start-up culture. But it also throws up new stumbling blocks.

Automation has already replaced millions of transaction and production jobs and, as technological development continues to accelerate, looks poised to absorb even more complex roles. The FYA report says studies estimate that 60 per cent of students are currently being trained for jobs that will be radically affected by automation in the next 10 to 15 years. Globalisation will continue to see local jobs heading offshore while collaborative work environments will increase the so-called 'gigging economy', with workers pushed into moonlighting or taking on multiple casual and contract roles.

Young Workers

The health benefits of stable work


Job stability is linked to lowered levels of both depression and anxiety and contributes to greater autonomy and wellbeing. Strong social support networks are an essential element of overall wellbeing, and the workplace can be a key source of these social interactions

Unemployed people miss out on those connections and their health suffers as a result. Research from VicHealth and the CSIRO has found "a strong relationship between youth unemployment and low levels of mental health and wellbeing".

In search of solutions


It might not be possible to overcome what FYA calls the 'New Work Order'. But it is possible to prepare young people better, building up their resilience and confidence in the face of the inevitable instability and uncertainty of their early working lives.

VicHealth is exploring practical ways to improve mental health outcomes for young job seekers. The project is using the power of 'gamification' to help expand the mindset of young people as they enter the workforce so they can approach their future with greater adaptability. Read more about the growing influence of gamification in the health sector in our story The new game plan for mental health and wellbeing.