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Young people are faced with more uncertainties than ever before – and work, and how it will fit into their lives, is one of the big unknowns. Project Officer Jen Malbon explored the issue with a diverse group at the Making Our Future Work pilot workshop, held in Canberra by YoungA21 with the support of its parent organisation, Australia21 and a grant from the federal Department of Employment.

In the Making our Future Work project, our objective is to gain and articulate an empathic understanding of how young people are perceiving and experiencing the world of work, now and as they look to the future, to help inform the development of policies and programs.

Research in this domain, such as the Foundation for Young Australians’ New Work Order series, proposes a shift in how we collectively think about work, the types of skills that will be useful for work, and the educational and institutional outcomes necessary to enabling success in the workforce.

So the Making our Future Work project aims to bring together diverse stories and experiences of people aged 16-25 in a series of workshops across Australia. These workshops will be a tool to understand individual experiences of work alongside the collective thoughts of how to best move into the future, as young people grapple with uncertainty on both micro and macro scales.

On the 11th of September 2017, YoungA21/Australia21 hosted a pilot workshop with 15 young people who live in the Canberra region. The participants came together to explore and record their personal and collective feelings towards the future and work, and to share ideas and experiences of how they are faring and how things could be better. With the collaboration of past and present Australia21 Honorary Youth Advisors, the workshop moved through a series of individual, small group, and whole group activities. The participants did an exceptional job in sharing their personal stories and views while respectfully engaging with the different experiences of others.

As you can imagine, many important issues were discussed.

Some were personal:

“I guess it’s embarrassing, I’d say. If you think back into the past everyone had moved out by now. And I don’t want to burden my parents any more. They’ve stuck with me for 18 years.”

“And then you feel ashamed if you need to move back in with your parents. If you take a step forward in your career, you need to take two steps back in your personal life.”

Some comments were structural:

“The way we think about inequality has to change. We are so accepting of it. We have to [admit] there is so much inequality, and the inequality itself is the problem. For that to change, we need big structural changes.”

In understanding young peoples’ diverse experiences of work, and the complexity of choices that individuals make given the opportunities that each can access, the presentation of a single narrative is inadequate and impossible. We must acknowledge the range of experiences, their contexts and the personal values of young people, as we work to understand their views and to strive for fair, sustainable and inclusive outcomes in the workplace and in public policy.

One thing is clear: young people are equipped and willing to engage with their future, and others need to be ready to listen.

The workshop was a great success, and we’re looking forward to expanding the program so more young Australians can have a voice in planning and policy. As Australia21 analyses the data collected through the workshops, we’ll share some of the responses that are helping us to present and give context to the dynamic experiences and perceptions of young people and their future of work. So watch this space for more!

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