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The real truth behind Young Australians and their career indecision

By Ana Isabel Alonsagay

The process is all-too familiar: finish high school, grab a degree, and earn that annual 50-60K in the first entry-level role you find. Forget a gap year; according to research by YouthSense surveying over 2000 young Australians (aged 15-20), only 20% had parents who viewed the practice in a positive light.

After all, the earlier you start a career, the better – right? 

While the notion may hold some weight (specifically among those with an established passion and decided field), high school graduates (or soon-to-be graduates) are commonly left floundering through their potential options.

Skillstalk explore the primary reasons behind young Australians’ anxiety and indecisiveness around careers – and how to mitigate them. 

Why are young Australians indecisive with their careers?

  1. Forced to make a choice early.
  2. Educational, cultural, economic barriers to employment.
  3. Lack of knowledge on alternative career paths.

1. Forced to make a choice early.

young woman looking stressed studying at library

Though relatively dated, a 2015 All About Careers survey found that 52% of its respondents – comprised of over 37,000 undergraduates and 1500 school and university students – had agreed with the statement: “I have no idea what I want to do with my career”. 

Such perspectives further the importance of formulating a proper, post-Year 12 career plan

There is common pressure to decide on your career path straight out of high school, with plenty of students lacking the guidance required to make a well-suited, sustainable choice. A rushed decision can likely lead to the wrong one – contributing to the 15% annual attrition rate among university students, and the common decision to change courses during study

Research has also found that “television and movies” serve as a primary influencer on one’s career choices; leading to unrealistic media perceptions and outdated stereotypes of particular industries. “Forensic psychology” was noted as the highest preferred professions among undergraduate students – with many likely imagining scenes from “CSI”-type thrillers, rather than the mundane reality of research and statistic-heavy tasks. 

To curb these misguided notions and unnecessary pressure, students or job-seekers are encouraged to take time in weighing out their options

Friends, family, and other connections may be valuable sources of advice to start – especially if they come from a field of interest. These people can offer “insider information” on the daily duties of their role, the training and qualifications required, and any job or placement opportunities that may be available. 

Mapping out your interests, talents, and current employable skills is another helpful way of brainstorming potential industries. Online sources such as the Australian Government Department of Education and Training library, Job Outlook, and myfuture offer handy aptitude quizzes and career information to aid in your research. 

Finally, speaking with your school’s career counsellors or turning to career guidance services can help in further identifying options and locating relevant training courses. These professionals also typically offer assistance in building resumes and job-hunting. 

It’s normal to not know your “purpose” off the bat, and thinking things through – before diving into a debt-heavy course or pursuing a role out of pressure – is critical. As stated by Angela Duckworth (the award-winning author of Grit): “If you don’t know what you want to do with the rest of your life, you’re not a failure. Give yourself time and get yourself experience to figure things out.”

2. Educational and economic barriers to employment.

Oftentimes, indecision is also caused by one’s self-confidence, cultural influence, or economic factors beyond their control.

One’s self-assessment of personal, academic achievements is found to be a driving force of “career uncertainty”, according to a 2013 cross-sectional survey by N. Galliot, L. Graham, and N. Sweller. Their findings suggested a correlation between ranking one’s academic abilities lower than their peers, and defining themselves as “career uncertain”. Varying socio-cultural factors and expectations influenced this self-evaluation; though regardless, the lower their academic confidence – the less confident they were in their career and employment decisions.

Such research is further proven by recent statistics from the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA), where they found that 33% of unemployed young Australians believed they lacked the right education to seek work – much less their ideal career path. 

Students may also struggle with finding school subjects or courses relevant to their interests, reinforcing difficulties in finding a suitable career path. 

On the flipside, those who do manage to study in their field of interest may struggle to find employment in the industry. 

In fact, recent reports reveal the challenge to find full-time work at all. With fewer entry-level positions on the market, the job hunt for young Australians has become ever-more difficult; at the same time, nearly half (40%) of those unemployed attribute their struggle to a lack of work experience. 

Such barriers can effectively strike doubt in one’s career decisions, pushing them to revise their current career plans and seek out other options. 

To navigate these hurdles and changing economic times, young Australians are encouraged to embrace alternative professional and academic pathways

In our increasingly digital economy, workers now have the advantage of abandoning traditional, 9-5 employment in favour of remote work and digital talent platforms (such as Fiverr, Airtasker, and Upwork). This has spurred the rise of the “gig economy” – an innovative online market for flexible, autonomous work regardless of one’s location. According to FYA’s The New Work Order report, 70% of those under 34 use such platforms to find work, and are projected to create an additional 270,000 jobs by 2025.

Thus – should conventional, full-time employment be a challenge, the “gig economy” can serve as an alternate choice.

Those who lack the academic confidence or options for proper career planning are encouraged to explore other educational pathways. University isn’t a one-size-fits-all, and its (primarily) theory-based learning may not be best-suited for students pursuing a hands-on, practical profession. 

If you fall into this pool, you may find luck with more vocational-type training instead, as discussed further below. 

3. Lack of knowledge on alternative career paths.

choosing study mode on tablet

In a survey of over a thousand Australians by McCrindle, four in five parents (79%) stated they’d much rather have their children enter university post-high school, rather than undertake a vocational training pathway. 

Such lack of awareness prevents one from establishing a better-suited, more accurate career plan. These young Australians may feel pressured to pursue university degrees that, while valuable in academic theory and knowledge, may not necessarily offer the same level of practical training and experience as a VET course. This may result in a struggle for employment (and thus, uncertainty in their career path) due to a lack of hands-on, work-ready skills.

Careers experts stress the importance of introducing technical and vocational education as equally valuable options alongside higher education. Our current media places a preferential focus on university without offering much credit to alternative pathways; given that less than half of young Australians who finish school move on to a university degree, this lacking support often leaves plenty stumbling through their post-high school employment plans. 

Thankfully, the stigma towards VET education as the lower-quality “cousin” of higher education is gradually lifting – with 78% of VET graduates employed after their training and earning wages equal to (and at times, higher than) their university graduate counterparts. 

By broadening their horizons and offering other opportunities for training, young Australians can better equip themselves with both the skills and confidence to pursue their career of interest. 

As stated by career development professional Amanda Chahine, “[education] is not this linear path that a lot of parents, even students think that we will finish our HSC, we’ll go to university and land a job… Life is a lot more messy than that.” 

Vocational training: a flexible pathway to employable skills 

Should your career plans call for more vocational training – rather than the traditional university degree – Upskilled offers qualifications across a wide range of Australia’s thriving industries. Dive into the world of information technology, pursue fulfilling opportunities in community services, enhance your business skills, and more.

Best of all, each course is delivered 100% online, helping you tailor your studies according to personal needs and schedule. 

Set out your path towards your ideal career – and enquire about a course today
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