A recent Buzzfeed article on millennial burnout gained a lot of traction and it’s not hard to see why. Finally, a diagnosis existed that made sense– young people have ‘internalised the idea that we should be working all the time’, and the pressure on us to gain tertiary qualifications and well-paying jobs is more intense than ever. We’ve become paralysed with fear and anxiety.
Millennial burnout, however, is not the only issue impacting young people’s careers. What about the young people who are still searching for jobs after months of applications? Or those who have studied for years only to discover they are too inexperienced to even apply for entry-level positions?
“It has been 10 months that I have been seeking full-time work as a dietitian. It took me nine months to get a casual position as a dietetic assistant in a hospital,” reports a 25-year old university graduate.
Sadly, this graduate’s situation is not uncommon: I know of many people around my age who are struggling to find work despite being qualified and hard-working. One friend has a Master’s degree but can only find casual, contract work in her field. She’s been forced to continue working at Woolworths to supplement her income. Another friend is having trouble finding a job in her field after graduating with two bachelor’s degrees and a portfolio of design work.
While millennials are better educated than previous generations, Australia’s youth unemployment rate currently sits at 11.2 percent. According to a survey by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), young people aged between 15 -24 are also likely to be ‘underemployed’, meaning they are available to work more but can’t get the hours. Others belong to the phenomenon known as ‘skills mismatch’, in which a person’s qualifications are not required for the kind of work they do.
The nature of today’s job market, is that experience is compulsory for entry-level positions. For many, gaining experience prior to entering the full-time job market is a requirement of their degree, but is most often completed outside of university contact hours and even at the cost of forgoing paid employment.
“In my first 2 weeks of my [master’s] degree, I was doing classes nine to five, Monday to Friday. On the weekends I was trying to catch up with the intense learning and completing assessment. To support myself, I took on night shift work at my local Woolworths,” my friend with the master’s explains.
“Then, I started doing unpaid placement work at a hospital. Some days I was working a full day at the hospital and working a night shift ‘til 12am,” she says.
Interns Australia– an organisation championing fairer conditions for people seeking work experience– claims that 87 percent of internships in Australia are unpaid. A 2016 government study found that young people aged between 18 – 29 are the most likely to participate in unpaid work experience, despite being better educated than older generations.
The ABS reports that today’s young people are more likely than ever to have a ‘non-school qualification’, with over a third of people aged between 25 – 34 holding a bachelor degree or higher.
“[I faced] pressure to study rather than not go to university, mainly because people often said that I wouldn’t earn a decent wage without having a degree,” says one young job seeker.
“I’ve given up valuable paid work to be able to study, complete assessments, or to go to interviews for potential jobs within the industry,” she says.
The pressure on youth may have something to do with the findings of a Skilling Australia report, in which four in five parents said they would prefer their children have an undergraduate degree rather than a VET qualification.
While today’s job market demands young people to participate in internship programs to beef up their employability, some lack financial or geographical access to such work, which could have a lasting impact on their future job prospects.
According to the government survey, even those that can participate in unpaid work experience also pay a high price, including: reducing work hours at a paying job; living away from home; paying for work insurance, and commuting for over an hour each way just to do a day’s work for free.
Millennials have a universally bad rap for being entitled, self-absorbed ‘snowflakes’, but the truth is we are working harder than ever and are still worse off than our parents’ generation. Please excuse us for consoling ourselves about the future with expensive brunches instead of saving for houses we cannot afford.