25 and unemployed: the quarter life crisis hurting young people

This article was originally published by The Sydney Morning Herald.

They call it the quarter-life crisis.

A growing number of young Australians do not have full-time work by the time they turn 25 and Michael Ouzas is desperately trying to avoid this situation.

The 23-year-old, who has a masters degree in landscape architecture from RMIT, has spent the past 12 months looking for work.

He estimates he’s applied for at least 50 jobs.

“I have applied at small firms, large firms and international firms. I have lost count,” he said.

New research by the Foundation for Young Australians suggests Mr Ouzas’ struggle is not uncommon.

It finds the transition from education to full-time work has become increasingly time-consuming and unpredictable, with half of Australia’s 25-year-olds unable to secure full-time work despite 60 per cent holding tertiary qualifications.

Where has the work gone?

Per cent of 15 to 24 year-olds employed full-time

2230123_1528878872559
Note: A person is considered to be working full-time if they worked 35 hours or more in all jobs in the week prior to Census night.  Source: ABS

Mr Ouzas said his biggest obstacle was competition in the job market. He said employers were also demanding years of experience for entry-level jobs.

“There are only so many graduate positions available,” he explained.

“The majority of firms are small and might only employ five to 10 people. When they are obtaining a new employee they are often not looking for graduates, and if they are, they want someone with one to three years’ experience.”

While Mr Ouzas loved his time at RMIT, he thinks he would have benefited from a work placement.

He’s working in a Collingwood bottle shop and considering moving to China where he’s more hopeful of securing work as a landscape architect.

“I want to obtain a job and start practising in a field that I love,” he said.

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Foundation for Young Australians chief executive, Jan Owen, said investing in education was not converting to full-time employment.

“The quarter-life crisis is very real,” she said.

“There is a quarter-of-life crisis about just starting your life, being able to support full-time work off the back of an education you have invested a lot of time and money in.”

She said there was a mismatch between the skills needed in the workplace and what was being taught.

The report, which is based on a survey of 14,000 young people, found that the proportion of 25-year-olds in full-time work dropped from 57 to 50 per cent over the decade to 2016.

At the same time, young people are more educated than ever before.  The proportion of 15 to 24-year-olds studying at university and TAFE has increased from 30 per cent in the mid-80s to to 53 per cent.

Previous research by the Foundation has revealed that the average time it takes young people to transition from education to full-time work has ballooned from one year in 1986 to 4.7 years.

Students reported that not enough work experience, a lack of appropriate education, inadequate interview and job application skills and not enough jobs were the main hurdles preventing them from accessing full-time work.

The report found that securing full-time work could be fast-tracked by up to 17 months if young people had problem-solving, teamwork and communication skills.

Megan O’Connell, the director of the Mitchell Institute at Victoria University, said our education system was failing to prepare students for success after school.

She said students could “start thinking about what they enjoy and what they are good at in primary school and learn about how they might contribute to different jobs”.

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