Will Our Children Have Jobs in the Future? (1999)

Youths have no future, but there are ways in which we can create jobs and hope with them, says Sohail Inayatullah.

“Why should I care about the future,” says Mark Stuart. While only 25, he has seen most of his childhood friends killed off from heroin and violence.  Most, especially the males remain  underemployed  and work, if at all, in the informal economy.

But while the death certificate might say heroin, others such as Richard Eckersley, of the CSIRO and editor of Measuring Progress , believe that it is because Australian youth have lost hope in the future that they are dying off. Eckersley writes that most young people believe that the 21st century will be even worse than the 20th.  Few believe that life in the next century will be better for Australians. Jenny Gidley, a social psychologist at Tweed and co-editor of book on the future of the university, concurs. She says: ” The majority of young Australians researched over the last decade about their views of the future are pessimistic and fearful and furthermore most are disempowered by their lack of hope”.

Francis Hutchinson, senior lecturer at the University of Western Sydney, Hawkesbury in his research of Australian teenagers found that: “negative imagery of the future ranged from perceptions of intensifying pressure and competition in schools in the twenty-first century to worsening trends in physical violence and war, joblessness and poverty.”

Failing the Young

Paul Wildman, a former Queensland Department of Labor director, now working in the area of   pprenticeships and traineeships believes our government has failed them.  We, as a society, have not been able to give them hope.

Wildman, however, is not a bleeding heart liberal. He sees Australia in need of ‘comfort terrorists’ those who can draw us our from the complacency of baby boomer middle age and help us see there is life than fast food, the GST, football and a new 4WD.  He wants the state to be responsible for improving our childrens’ life options so that they can empower themselves. He wants shared responsibility for our youth’s futures by government, community, family and the youths themselves.

Merely giving the future to young people does not work. As faulty, however, are market driven programs which do not provide training or real job prospects to them, warehouses our youth merely giving them the illusion of making money yet not giving them an opportunity to make their future mean anything.

Rescuing the future

Wildman and others suggest the following that need to be done to rescue our youth’s future. They are:

  • Electors must take responsibility to hold Government to a comprehensive ‘youth job compact’ response to unemployment that goes beyond training and offers all school leavers a chance to make a positive future for themselves through an options of  employment: private, community, public, self or study.   A compact goes beyond, yet includes, training.  It is two- way agreement that includes rights and responsibilities and not a handout or ‘sit down money’.
  • An end to duplication in training and employment bureaucracies and jurisdictions between the state and commonwealth so  that an apprenticeship in the Kimberleys means the same as an apprenticeship in Hobart.  Monies saved could be directed into ‘job compact’.
  • Getting beyond ‘inquiry-led’ initiatives.  The inquiry waits till the system breaks down then costs millions of dollars and produces myriad of conclusions and recommendations which need the very bureaucracy that caused the problem in the first place to execute the changes. Indeed, the inquiry often frames the problem in limited legalistic language, never working with young people and employers to create a conversation about meaningful futures. Since the inquiry is bureaucrat let, no change results.
  • Use the ‘Self help’ model. Assist young people to generate their own future including employment opportunities, for example, building their own sustainable housing/communities and group businesses.  This is the thrust of the work of Katoomba community organizer Alex Bowman. He believes that instead of the dole, give young people a right to land. Let them grow food, and create self-reliance producer and consumer cooperatives on this land.
  • However, for those who prefer to stay in the city, we need an urban planning approach that sees employment designed into a suburb just as roads are today. Jobs must be part of the design process not as something that happens afterwards.  The Greenfields Model intended in the Gold Coast hopes to that.

However, Wildman says that  in “in the final analysis we also need to realise not everyone will get jobs so as a society we need to use these initiatives to move away once and for all from seeing the only option for youth, and middle aged retrenchees, as full time work.”

What this means this means is realising that employment levels are likely to be much lower in the future and there simply wont be enough jobs to go around.  Says Wildman, “we need to move from ‘dole bludger’ to ‘multiployee’ where several part time jobs are matched with some public assistance to give the equivalent of a full time job and therefore a chance to make their future meaningful.

For Bowman, this can happen only when land becomes the base for rejuvenating the dreams of  young people. Land grounds young people in community, it connects them, and gives them power over their future.

“The key to a better future for youths, “says Wildman  “is shared responsibility. Otherwise, we’ll just create another bureaucracy, another iron cage.”

Currently, young people look to the future and see nothing.  Wildman wants them to see hope, work and the possibility of a fair-go. As Gidley says: “Recent research has also shown that when young people are encouraged to develop their imaginations and are educated with a positive values system and a sense of integration rather than fragmentation, then they are empowered by this”.  Without some of the changes outlined, Australia will continue to have the distinction of one of the world’s highest youth suicide rate.

The deeper problem

But there is a deeper problem that Jeremy Rifken in his classic book The End of Work has identified. Unless there is a sustained global depression, in the long run the most likely future is that of a jobless slow growth, where 20% work and 80% do something else.  Training, job compacts and other solutions while important for the next 20 years, offer little for the long term. In that horizon, the real challenge will be seeing ourselves as more than  workers. It is thinking of our futures in post-scarcity terms, discovering and creating that “something else.” Unless we can think of ourselves outside our historical work identities, we will enter a future world where the one thing that has defined us, not just the job, but work itself, won’t be available.

Are our identities flexible enough to survive? Can we work with youth to create futures that are meaningful for them, can we create a new history for future generations? Jenny Gidley, social psychologist and youth futures researcher, believes we can. She says that it is not just jobs at issue but the failure of imagination. What is need are visions workshops, as part of a new educational system, to help transform negative images to positive images.