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The modern world of work is both an exciting and uncertain place for young people. Technological changes, the demand for ‘soft’ or ‘enterprising’ skills, and increasing casual and part-time work are changing the nature of employment markets.

There is a range of data available about the labour market and predictions about the future of work, but the voice of young people is often missing in contemporary research.

Now Australia21 is doing something about that. This week, we’ve launched a report on the pilot of our Making our Future Work youth-led initiative.

The Making our Future Work project seeks to gain an empathic understanding of young people’s experiences and feelings about the world of work, their future, and the challenges and opportunities they face.

The first stage of the project was the pilot workshop, held on 11 September 2017 in the ACT. The workshop was designed in consultation with an expert reference group and facilitated by YoungA21 members. Fourteen people aged 16-24 years from a range of backgrounds (employed, students, unstable housing) participated in the 3.5 hour workshop. Activities included an individual survey, then small group discussions and a whole group discussion, which were recorded by a graphic facilitator (see below).

Hopes and fears

In the individual survey, the participants were invited to express their hopes and fears about their future and work. These are some examples from the wide range of responses:

Positive I feel positive about starting work, because it means I can be more independent in the world and get my own place to live.
Uncertainty The last time I discussed my future with my manager, the mixed signals I’ve been getting don’t bode well.
Hopeful optimism Assuming that 1) society is a meritocracy and 2) grades are reflective of merit; I should be able to land a decent job. But then again, assumptions 1 & 2 aren’t quite true and things can always go wrong. Even if I attend uni, am I going to be able to get a job?
Slug through my career When I’m expecting a long, long, day… I feel this way because I have to mentally brace myself so I won’t quit or whine.
Afraid/optimistic After Brexit and the US election – realised the world is changing in a negative way, with more walls, more trade barriers, more pessimism, less cosmopolitanism, less trust.

Change and uncertainty

Throughout the workshop, four key topics were identified: education, social equity, workers’ rights, and career paths. Discussion and reflection ranged across many levels – personal experiences, the individual workplace, the employment market and culture, government policy, institutional issues, and societal expectations.

Across all topics and levels, participants talked of change and feelings of uncertainty. In line with this, the hopes most frequently cited by participants were to find rewarding work, and to find work that is stable and secure. The most cited fear was overwhelmingly about stability and security of employment.

The participants’ own words, contained in the report, provide a rich insight into how the broader world of work and predictions for the future are affecting these 14 young people, and what they believe could make it better or worse. Their comments make interesting reading for anyone concerned about issues around employment and Australia’s future in general.

In continuing our support of young people’s voices, the Making our Future Work team are developing Stage 2 of the project. We look forward to future reflections and ideas from more Making our Future Work participants.

Ultimately, Australia21 hopes the outcomes of this project will be that:

  • policymakers and the community gain a greater understanding of young people’s lived experiences in relation to work, as well as their hopes for future employment and well-being;

  • government/industry policy and programs are influenced by the project findings; and

  • young people are empowered to contribute to policy debates and program issues affecting them.

Now YOU can make a difference!

The Making our Future Work pilot was supported by a $10,000 grant from the federal Department of Employment and YWCA Canberra donated the venue.

We need public support to run Stage 2 in 2018, so please give generously to our End of Year Appeal at

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