The Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) is doing us a great service by continually calling attention to the challenges facing Australia’s rising generation. It’s beguilingly easy to fall for the line that ‘kids today are no worse off than we were, and whine just as much as we did.’ But the FYA is showing us just how far off the mark that view really is. Young people today are in a tougher economic spot than any since the 1950s, and there are long term challenges to getting out of those economic shadows. The challenge for older generations is to work out in pretty short order how we can revitalise the old bargain that the next generation will be better off, and at a minimum no worse off.
In mid-June FYA released Renewing Australia’s promise: Report card 2016 (9 pages) which explains the headwinds young people are sailing into. It’s a very sober presentation – the problems are briefly stated and the facts are offered in easy to digest visuals. There’s no tub-thumping. FYA lets the evidence do the hard yards.
Before we get to the challenges for young Australians it’s worth swinging the spotlight onto what FYA holds as the most important avenue for putting this to rights – education. Here are two paragraphs (in reverse order) from page 1 of the report:
Australia’s current youth population is the engine that will drive future prosperity and they are hungry for the chance to create a better world. But their capacity to contribute to Australia’s economic development is dependent upon them receiving high quality education that focuses on developing the skills that will be needed to thrive in the future job market.
While today’s young people are doing well in some areas, they face several escalating challenges. High youth underemployment, an education system that is struggling to adapt to changing needs and rising housing costs remain among the mounting challenges that present a growing threat to an otherwise exciting future.
Yes, education can make the difference. But only if school and postsecondary education systems adapt more quickly, making better links between the needs of young people and emerging social and economic realities.
What of the challenges young people face?
Renewing Australia’s promise packs a lot of realities into just a few pages. Here’s a selection of them.
Employment and wages
- 3.4 times the number of young Australians are underemployed compared to 1985
- 2.8 times as many young people are employed in part-time positions compared to 1985
- Young women continue to face the same gender wage gap as their mothers
- in 2015, 20 to 24 year olds living outside major cities were at least 18% less likely to have completed year 12 or an equivalent qualification than those living in major cities
- compared to other OECD countries, Australian high school students’ performance has slipped between 2000 and 2012 – from 5th in the world in maths to 19th, from 7th to 16th in science, and from 4th to 14th in reading
- young Australians are spending more time in education that their parents, and they are paying more for their education than their parents did – a 3-year bachelor’s degree in 2016 cost 2.5 times more than it did in 1991, and between 1974 and 1989 degrees were free
- more than half of postsecondary students, and 71% of VET students, are being trained for jobs that will be radically affected by automation in the next 15 years.
- a house in Sydney costs 10 times the average annual income in 2015, up from 4 times the average annual income in 1985
- in 1985 it took 6 years to save for a house deposit in Sydney and in 2015 it takes 15 years – for Melbourne make that 5 years in 1985 and 11 in 2015, and for Hobart 4 years in 1985 and 8 years in 2015
- average rental costs have increased by 44% in last decade
The skills they need
It’s easy, then, to appreciate the headline in The Sydney Morning Herald’s story on FYA’s report: ‘Young people today are overqualified, underemployed and swimming in debt’.
Jan Owen, FYA’s CEO, notes in a blog post (Big data reveals the skills young people need) that school and tertiary education systems must revisit what and how young people learn so that they have the skills employers and the economy need:
… employers are placing a premium on enterprise skills at a time of significant change in our workforce. An analysis of 4.2 million job advertisements from 2012-2015 found there is rising demand for enterprise skills such as digital literacy (increased by 212%), critical thinking (increased by 158%), creativity (increased by 65%) and presentation skills (increased by 25%).
Jobs ads that ask for these enterprising skills are offering significantly higher pay than those jobs not requiring these skills, and employers of younger workers are asking for enterprise skills just as often as role-specific technical skills.
We all have our work cut out for us.