Thinking global, living local: Voices in a globalized world

Graduated, Skilled, Eager and Unemployed

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Are Australian undergraduates looking forward to getting employed when they graduate, or are they concerned about prospects in Australia?

“Go to university,” they said. “It’ll be fun,” they said…

The effects of the GFC linger even in our isolated corner of the world. While older Australian workers grip tightly to jobs in fear of redundancies, younger jobseekers fight tooth and nail for unpaid positions. Others still struggle under a demoralising crush of rejection letters.

In the last century we’ve seen a push to increase the amount of youth with university qualifications, brought about by Australia’s need for more professional services and research. As a result of government intervention (particularly the implementation of the HECS-HELP student loan scheme), it has now become the social norm to send your child to university.

However, even with that degree in hand, graduates around the country are facing the unpalatable fact that qualifications alone are not enough to land them their dream high-paying job, or any job for that matter. In fact, according to surveys undertaken by Graduate Careers Australia (GAC), 76.6% of 168,000 university graduates in 2010 procured jobs by May 2011, compared to 85.2% of graduates who found full-time work within four months of graduating in 2008. Economists have projected that the national unemployment rate is set to peak around six percent in 2013.

Young Australians struggle to find jobs

Even with practical work experience, uni graduates must start at the bottom of the ladder and work their way up, often with unpaid work. Waves of skilled graduates from overseas offer boisterous competition, and job cuts issued by the Queensland government mean that postgraduates with masters degrees and decades of experience are jostling for basic administration roles. For example, a friend recently attended a job interview where at least three out of the twenty people in that interview were recently let go government employees.

As industries reconfigure in an attempt to survive with technological change and shifting social patterns, every industry is shedding jobs. For example, the Queensland state police force recently shed more than 100 senior commissioned officers and 200 civilian staff. Bluescope Steel, Australia’s largest steel manufacturer, slashed 1000 jobs and 400 contractor jobs last year when it shut down a major facility, and another 170 jobs at the beginning of this year. As the price of living heightens, domestic purses tighten, demand for products fall, and retailers are forced to increase prices, or close their doors to shoppers and employees. A friend claimed that her weekly shopping spend has gone up by about sixty dollars. In my suburb alone, five shops in one plaza have closed down permanently or relocated.

What does this mean for youth recently graduated about to enter the workforce?If current trends continue, it is expected that the current generation of workers newly entering the workforce will retire later on average than current retirees. In my direct experience, students from different industries are bracing for the dive into the job market with various strategies. A lot of students, particularly in the arts, who traditionally struggle to find employment despite having university qualifications, have consolidated their chances with volunteer work and internships. Finance and accountancy students, who cannot access internships until their penultimate year, bite their fingernails and hope a solid GPA will get them through.

A Short Documentary from the University of Wollongong

As the GFC continues to take a firm hold overseas, Australian workers prepare for further job cuts in domestic industries. As soon to be university graduates, we all wait anxiously to discover what our future, our country’s future, and our chosen industry’s future holds. Meanwhile, we calculate our student loan bills, send more enquiries about internships, and pray that our parents and society were right.

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Melissa Payne

I'm an Australian full time student and part-time volunteer, and one day hope to work in not-for-profit PR. My multi-faceted interests include writing, reading, current affairs, intercultural relations, history, philosophy, and art. I write for Future Challenges because I'm interested in how public debate can generate solutions for a sustainable global future.