The Contemporary Labour Market and Youth Disadvantage

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In this paper I aim to address that, in comparison to earlier generations, contemporary work arrangements disadvantage young people (15-25) with reference to the Australian labour market. To do so, first I will cover the characteristics of the post-industrial, service society labour market that is currently present. In my overview of the service industry I will address the rise of emotional labour and human capital. To follow, I will address precarious and flexible work, the development of career prestige, job seeking, welfare systems and the development of theoretical perceptions of employment; cultural capital, social closure and credentialism. I will provide individual analysis of these factors and how they provide a correlation that the contemporary labour market disadvantages young people.

The post-industrial labour market is characterized by a notable focus of human interaction, a service society (Gershuny, J 2005, p. 1). This period focuses on human interaction and can be noted by the rise of the retail and hospitality industries whilst manufacturing as an industry declined. This period is theorised to reflect a prioritisation of the perception of connection between service and consumer (Wharton, A 1993, p. 206). The service industry in its need for the service of connection has an additional expectancy from employees in the form of emotional labour, creating new requisites for employment. Emotional labour creates the sacrifice of one’s own mentality and outlook in addition to providing physical labour and time investment (Dahiya, A 2017, p. 50). As retail and hospitality industries are a standard starting point for young people to start their involvement in the labour market, with a 43% employment in hospitality industries and 30% in retail of individuals 15-25 years of age (Australian Government: Department of Jobs and Small Businesses, 2018), duress can be experienced not only physically but emotionally. This expectation of emotional labour is not only a clear acceptance of human capital as a priority for recruitment from employers but a strong indicator of falsehood of self for monetary gain (Bessant, J, Farthing R & Watts, R 2017, p. 42). Emotional labour experienced by all but particularly from youth reflects an alienation of self and a trend to diminish the strength of valid emotions (Tokmak, I, 2014, p. 153). The distinct creation of a work personality and the forced portrayal of such weakens identity and creates a negative spiral of performed emotions over true emotions (Warner, J Talbot, D & Bennison, G 2013, p. 316). Segregation can develop between genders as females are stereotypically viewed to be more empathetic and involved over males and their perceived emotional stoicism (Bhave, D & Glomb, T 2009, p. 365). This reinforcement from the hierarchy of the labour market of perceived emotional “strength” between genders, creates a culture of sexist values in the workplace during the developmental period of young people in the labour market.

The contemporary labour market is also noted with a clear prioritisation towards career development and the acquisition of prestige. Labour hierarchy structures are clear between employer and employee with the later providing their labour and time as a resource for the former (Adler, Kwon & Heckscher 2008, p.360). Credentialism and Cultural Capital has become a priority in recruitment so for young people to gain access to their preferred career path, tertiary education and credentials must be acquired. Credentialism and Cultural Capital have overlapping similarities in that both recognise the value of an individual’s superficially qualities, educational prestige, geographical upbringing and residence, over practical work skills such as recorded punctuality, efficacy and product experience (Bills 2003, p. 453). This evolving appreciation of Credentialism in the labour market has affected young people in the duration of time spent in education as stated by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2016) that “56 per cent of Australians aged 15 years and over up from 46 per cent in 2006”. This in comparison to previous generations, delays entry to desired career paths and prolongs the lifestyle and cost of student living (White, A 2008, p. 1228). In Australia, tertiary education fees were first abolished in the 1970’s to enable easier access to lower socio-economic citizens, then re-introduced in 1989 under the Hawke Labor Government (Yezdani, O 2015, p. 285). Despite the necessity of degrees to enter prestigious career paths, Government support for students, Commonwealth Supported Places (CSP), continues to drop while the costs of universities continue to rise, displaying a federal level of social closure. The CSP enables applicable students to take a government loan for their studies that they pay back when their income reaches a certain threshold. As of the 2017 Australian Federal Budget, a 2.5% reduction to university funding was implemented compared to a 7.5% increase to university fees by 2022 coupled with a reduction to the CSP threshold,all increase the difficulty of accessing and maintaining a tertiary education for young people. Not only does a young person seem to need a strong support network to initiate or maintain tertiary education but by lowering the CSP payback threshold, I believe young people will return to a level of financial duress earlier than previous generations, that will affect other life course values such as home ownership.

Despite the labour market reinforcing career acquisition, the nature of employment has become increasingly flexible and precarious (Moen & Sweet, 2004, p. 218). Flexible employment can work well to assist young people as they pursue a tertiary education but, in that flexibility, precarity exists. Entry level positions of a casual or even a part time nature represent a precarious job role in that the employee has no true stability or assurance of continued employment (Lyons, Schweitzer & Ng, 2015 p.9). Irregular rosters, financial insecurity and lack of control in their employment are all markers of flexible/precarious work. Yet again, a defining feature of whether a young person is involved in flexible or precarious work is whether they are supported by family or government well enough that if the position were to expire, the loss wouldn’t be destabilizing (Umney, C & Kretsos, L 2015, p. 328). As such both the structure of tertiary education, class times and workloads coupled with a flexible but completely precarious labour market creates a hostile environment of impermanence as young people attempt to follow social norms of career acquisition. Whilst a detriment to stability and sense of control, precarious work affects the social lives of young people, blurring the lines of the work/home balance and creating a sense of alienation in the labour market early on (Woodman, D 2012, p. 1088). Young people, either as an entry point to their career path or as a supporting income for education, are forced to navigate the precarious labour market, inducing stress and instability and again causing difficulty in pursuing and achieving other life goals.

An obvious disadvantage to claim for young people in the labour market is the insufficient demand for their employment. As stated in Healey’s publication of Youth Unemployment (2015) “The unemployment rate for {Australian} young people now stands at the highest since 2001 and the underemployment rate for young people is the highest since 1978”. Whilst young people have access to employment they cannot reach the hours or income they desire, with full-time work being unavailable across both skilled and unskilled workforces.As such an element of this job precarity is that young people will face a returning need to seek out employment and experience the process repeatedly or for prolonged periods (Dockery, A & Strathdee, R 2003, p.2). Job seeking represents its own hurdle in the labour market, a longitudinal study of job seeking noted the mental duress of prolonged job hunting even amongst individuals who are invested in career acquisition, (Feather, N & O’Brien, G 1987, p. 270).

The Australian government does provide young people with financial support throughout periods of unemployment via the welfare service Centrelink. Payment options such as Newstart or Youth Allowance exist to assist young people face unemployment, however they have been noted to be insufficient for prolonged stability (Mendes, P 2015, p. 433). Whilst this may be intentional to decrease deviance and laziness and deter living exclusively off welfare. For young people facing a satiated and precarious labour market, independence is difficult to acquire (Hoolachan et al. 2017, p. 65). This again corelates with a federal framework that rewards those of higher socio-economic backgrounds and already superior resources to pull on in times of precarity.Young people face unemployment and underemployment due to the current structure of the labour market and not out of desire. Whilst social closure for prestigious positions may be intentional so to control the supply and demand of an industry, the consequences create a low socio-economic labour market of casual and part time workers without enough full-time positions allow for career development. Young people complete their specific degrees, find an at capacity labour market and turn to low socio-economic jobs for support and stability. As institutions and governments use social closure via restricting access to tertiary education and prestigious career paths to those of surplus income, segregation occurs. Young people become limited to the career paths of their class or their family’s class, creating worker families (Tallman, I & Morgner, R 1970, p. 335). This view fails to appreciate the value of personal agency in young people, yet it should be noted that the contemporary labour market represents its own obstacles for young people without support networks to acquire the credentials needed for career development. Once unemployed or underemployed young people continue to face the precarity and emotional labour covered above. Their presence in the unskilled labour market reduces the available hours for young people who would prefer or only have access to full-time unskilled work.

In this essay I have briefly covered the disadvantages faced by young people with a focused application to the contemporary Australian labour market. In this analysis I recognise I have not covered salient group variances within young people such as gender, ethnicity and sexuality and in future would provide specific hazards faced by such. The current labour market and welfare systems provided from the Australian government continue to reinforce class division. Young people from lower socio-economic backgrounds will face precarity over flexibility and struggle to acquire the cultural capital that is now prioritised in prestigious career paths. Whilst I have stated that young people are faced by disadvantages in the labour market it is perhaps more apt to describe what affects young people as a single cyclical affect. I offer that the social priority of acquiring a prestigious career is the catalyst for a domino effect that negatively impacts each new generation of young people. Each generation has threatened that which came before it, as such social closure is utilised by cultural capital and credentialism being mainstreamed, whether employers are conscious of it or not, as a leading recruitment tool. To satiate this young people must acquire credentials, which prolongs education which creates flexible/precarious workloads and at the credential’s conclusion, a surplus of skilled workers that then enter the unskilled labour market. This in turn leads to an increase of unemployment and underemployment as the unskilled labour market reaches capacity. This cycle creates a heavily tilted labour market of impermanence that disadvantages young people simply for the distinction that they were the last to arrive.

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