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3 challenges young workers face that you’re not thinking about

Work has changed and the prospect of a steady income and job stability is still out of reach for many young people, but it turns out they have to face much more than that.  

It’s a myth that Millenials and younger people are lazy, spoiled, avocado consuming drains on society.

What is true is that they’re more jobless than other generations. A Reserve Bank paper outlines that youth unemployment is 7 points above the national unemployment average at 12.5 per cent.

For those that are finding work (they fit it in around their daily brunches) they sometimes face challenges we don’t normally talk about.

1. Young workers are likely to injure themselves

According to Youth Safe, young workers (aged 15 to 25 years old) have a 75 per cent greater chance of being injured at work.

Karen Gately, founder of Corporate Dojo, is not surprised by this statistic.“People earlier in careers have less awareness of dangers and risks. And with youth comes a bit of risk taking and pushing boundaries as well,” she says.

Workplace injuries can vary in seriousness from skin related issues like eczema due to chemical exposure, back pain from heavy lifting, to incidents resulting in fatality.

Norwegian researchers found young workers are at risk of injury due to their physical, cognitive and psychosocial immaturity as well as their lack of experience. On top of that, young people are learning risky behaviours from their co-workers and managers.

“Time and time again employers are assuming people know what the risks are and don’t do good job of educating them,” Gately says.

The researchers proposed a solution in order to stop work-related injuries: a shift in workplace culture and safety standards.

They outlined the following interventions, which are used to reduce accidents on the whole, and are not specifically targeted to younger workers.

  • Changes in knowledge and attitudes
  • Physiological changes and use of personal protective equipment
  • Changes in behaviour
  • Changes in norms, safety culture, and climate
  • Structural changes such as physical or organisational environment
  • An integrated intervention with combinations of the changes in the aforementioned factors

However more research targeted at younger workers is needed.

“There is a lack of scientific studies and knowledge concerning the effects of preventive actions regarding young workers and occupational accidents,” the researchers say.

Gately says that organisational culture needs to be a reflection on self-care in order to promote safety for younger workers.

“Fundamentally the way people typically behave is a reflection of how people are thinking and feeling. Culturally if there’s no level of care factor to protect ourselves in the workplace, then the chance of having compliant behaviour is high.”

2. More likely to be sexually assaulted, less likely to report it

According to Everyone’s Business, a national survey conducted by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins, one in three workers in Australia have been sexually harassed but only one in five victims report the assaults.

People aged 18-29 are 45 per cent more likely to be sexually harassed at work and 20 per cent of people aged 15-17 have been sexually harassed at the workplace.

“We know from our research that many people are afraid to report their experiences of unwelcome sexual conduct out of fear that they won’t be believed, that it’s not worth it, that they’ll be ostracised and that it could damage their career,” Commissioner Jenkins says.

Of those who did report, 19 per cent were labeled a troublemaker, 18 per cent were ostracised, victimised and ignored by colleagues and 17 per cent resigned (respondents could select multiple outcomes).

Combatting this, according to Gately, starts with trust.

“Trust and respect in a relationship is so important because that affects whether or not someone will believe HR can be willing and able to do something about their complaint.

“We have to know that when someone is accusing another person of harassment, that is a huge deal and requires a lot of courage to do so.”

3. Highly educated, highly unprepared

According to The New Work Reality report, 60 per cent of 25 year olds enter the workforce with education levels higher than secondary school under their belt.

Despite this, 35 per cent of them fall into the categories of unemployed and underemployed and the respondents identify the following reasons that are stopping them from landing a job:

  • Not enough work experience
  • Lacking in appropriate education
  • Poor career management skills

Swinburne University Deputy Vice Chancellor Duncan Bentley highlighted that there is a ‘training gap’ among university educated graduates who are transitioning to the workforce.

“Many current business leaders graduated knowing one discipline well with some skills to use their knowledge. They typically worked for a business that gave on-the-job training. Over time, they took a further qualification to broaden their skills for management roles,” Bentley says.

“Today, it’s different. Small and medium sized businesses have neither the time nor budget to train graduates.”

It’s something of a controversial issue. While some are sure there is a training gap, others argue that employers are overall satisfied with graduates – the problem is a lack of full-time opportunities. This forces younger people into positions unrelated to their area of study, or into part-time work.

Regardless of who is correct, it’s clear that there is a general reluctance to hire younger people.

“I’ve seen so many people reluctant to hire younger workers and it drives me mental,” Gatley says.

“There are misconceptions around youth. They are perceived as having a worse work ethic than Baby Boomers, they’re lazy, not loyal, that they don’t know the fundamentals like showing up on time or appropriate professional behaviour – I just don’t think that’s true.

“There are exceptions of course but these days young people are outspoken about their expectations, they will be loyal to you if they respect you and the organisation’s culture.”

Gately is right that many young workers would consider giving up a chunk of their salary if that meant they were working in an organisation with a better workplace culture.

When it comes to young people, Gately says being compassionate and teaching them what is considered reasonable is key to providing them an easy transition into the workforce.

“I would say across the board, young people in my life have no idea whether or not the way they are being treated is reasonable or not.”

Unsure if your workforce is capable of taking on all the challenges of the future? Demystify what strategic workforce planning is, and understand and apply its key elements with this AHRI short course.

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