Many young Australians feel let down by Labor’s defeat, but there is a way forward | Shirley Jackson | Australia news
While many Australians are experiencing the hangover that comes with a resounding defeat at the ballot box, young Australians are feeling particularly terrible. They’re experiencing a kind of political hangxiety that will have ramifications for progressive parties if not properly treated.
For the latest generation of young Australians, this feeling of insecurity is nothing new. Many have been quick to highlight the successes and victories of the Hawke-Keating era, such as Medicare, Landcare and increased land rights for First Australians. However, for Gen Y Australians, the consequences of this era have not been entirely positive.
As many older Australians can testify, school-to-work transitions have always been characterised by periods of instability. New entrants to the labour market have always been expected to learn skills, earn respect and prove their value before achieving stability.
Yet, in many ways the labour market situation is much worse for Gen Y.
The deregulatory economic agenda of the 1980s and 90s helped create a labour market that locked many young workers into insecure employment for long periods. Higher education is often held up as the best protection against unemployment and low wages. However, recent research finds that the causal relationship between education and employment has been eroded.
Traditional employment pathways are becoming less and less common. Full-time employment for university graduates has dropped to 72.9%, and one in four young people are either unemployed or underemployed.
It might be tempting to assume this shift away from full-time work reflects a choice made by young people.
However, contrary to claims made by business leaders who argue that young people want or need “flexibility”, recent research shows that the latest generations of young workers continue to desire full-time, secure employment just like previous generations.
Too often the solutions that are proposed seek to increase the supply of skills to young people. Yet when jobseekers greatly outnumber work opportunities, supply-side solutions do little to address the deeper problems created by a lack of demand within the labour market.
If the Labor party is determined to return to government, it must invest in policies that address this lack of demand – policies like a youth guarantee.
The youth guarantee is a broad suite of policies designed to ensure that every young person under 25 is either in employment or in education. In particular, it would involve a complex mix of active labour market policies (ALMPs), which are a cluster of measures designed to get unemployed people back into work, preferably into industries experiencing labour shortages.
Usually, ALMPs contain some mix of reforms centred on education (secondary and tertiary, including vocational), income support and employment services. While there are many ways that ALMPs can be designed to perform a range of functions, to ensure a youth guarantee is successful in providing a smoother transition for young workers, there are four key aspects that must be included.
First, a publicly funded educational system. By making sure that national and/or regional governments own and operate the system, students face no financial barriers to entry, and do not leave university saddled with debt that hinders their earning potential.
Also, if students who go through this system complete their studies and are unable to find work, they are not forced to take work in non-career industries or occupations to pay off student debt, but are instead offered a place in another training opportunity or workplace.
Second, ensuring there are national standards around skill competencies. These skill competencies must be heavily regulated and routinely tested to ensure that skill standards are not distributed unequally between education providers. This allows not only for increased proficiencies for young people, but also produces graduates with dependable skill sets attractive to employers.
Third, a student allowance that is set at a living wage. This is important because it reduces reliance on paid employment in non-career industries and occupations, like hospitality, retail and fast food. This in turn helps to reduce underutilisation and “skills mismatching”.
Fourth, employment services that are tailored to the individual. By investing in strong employment services that are designed to move the unemployed towards sustainable careers in areas with labour market shortages, and to match individual capacities with relevant training opportunities.
If implemented well, a youth guarantee could improve the school-to-work transition by investing in debt-free, competence-based skills training and combining it with on-the-job experience and adequate financial support. Ultimately, it would be a way of reducing the long-term unemployment rate of young people.
If the Labor party has the political will to invest in this bold idea, it not only offers economic benefits but political currency. It is the kind of idea that can mobilise a generation around progressive politics and offer real hope for the future.
Under Anthony Albanese, Labor has pivoted from progressive policies like negative gearing changes to position itself as the party of aspiration. This pivot is based in part on a belief that their previous policy positions hinder their ability to appeal to voters who want to get ahead.
However, there is another way to respond. Instead of asking how they can support people in their aspirations, they can ask why people have those aspirations to begin with.
When so many young people occupy such a precarious position with the labour market, it makes sense to focus on giving them a solid foundation to build a career off, rather than trying to support those lucky few who make it further up the ladder.
Labor has a chance to inspire a generation of Australians to believe in progressive politics – or condemn them to a life of insecurity, frustration and doubt.