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Spilling the Beans on Youth Social Exclusion

Barman handling order to waiter at a restaurant

Australians are known for their love of coffee. In fact, the average Australian ordering a medium coffee each day spends $1522.05 a year on their addiction! Hipsters, executives, and everyone in between rely so much on the passionate and hard-working baristas who sustain the smooth crema of Australia’s coffee-drinking culture. However, a significant portion of this barista population are university-educated, underutilised, or locked out of the labour market for the careers they’ve worked so hard to pursue.

In recent years, there has been a significant decrease in the number of full-time jobs available. As a result, younger workers are being pushed into casual or part-time jobs that are often poor in quality and do not offer enough working hours, limiting prospects for long-term skill development and income security. Without a secure income or a clear career path, these highly qualified people are left feeling vulnerable, let down by the system, and socially excluded.

In 2013, 26% of Australian graduates were underutilised in their jobs. A substantial number of young Australians have the opportunity to go to university, but as they graduate the job market is unable to absorb them, leaving them at the end of their degree with a large student debt and no job prospects. With 70% of entry-level jobs for young Australians at risk of automation in the future, youth unemployment or underutilisation will only get worse. It is predicted that over five million jobs in Australia will disappear within the next 15 years as a result of technology.

Australia is not the only country facing these issues. After the global financial crisis, Europe’s youth unemployment rates skyrocketed and steps had to be taken to intervene. In Greece and other countries, the youth unemployment rate is nearly 50%! Perhaps Australia could take some tips from the implemented strategies in Europe to decrease problems such as youth unemployment and social exclusion. The most prominent initiative is the European Youth Guarantee, where each person receives an offer of employment, education, or training within four months of becoming unemployed or leaving education.

Although Australia has not experienced a recession like that of Europe, the strength of the Australian economy is posing a similar problem for the younger generation. With the substantial increase in Australian housing prices and a reduction in employment opportunities, young Australians are finding it difficult to become socially included.

Young people are more vulnerable to unemployment, and in 2015 the youth unemployment rates hit 13.1% in Australia, a figure that has doubled since 2008. Although this rate is lower than other global regions (such as Europe, where it is 20.4%), action must be taken to ensure these individuals are socially included.

Social exclusion occurs when individuals are prevented from fully participating in society, and being unemployed for an extended period of time increases the citizens’ risk of this. Conversely, social inclusion ensures that those at risk gain the opportunities and resources required to participate in economic, social, and cultural life, all of which are essential factors in defining an individual’s identity in society.

Research shows that long-term disengagement from the labour market has serious consequences. Along with the financial strain it places on the unemployed, joblessness also negatively impacts their psychological and social well-being. From an individual perspective, the effects of social exclusion and unemployment are not only temporary, but have detrimental ramifications on young Australians beyond their transition into adulthood. Engagement and involvement in the workforce is a crucial component of human development in establishing interpersonal skills, a sense of identity, and role in society. The harsh reality is, social exclusion runs the risk of leaving youth with a pessimistic outlook on life, which can lead to disengagement from society, delinquent behaviour, and drug use.

The labour market can be dynamic and unpredictable, and social inclusion is crucial to keep youth active and engaged so that when a full-time job does appear, they are ready to take it. Part-time and casual jobs are essential building blocks for youth work readiness in gaining resilience, maximising societal participation, and accruing valuable work experience. However, at some point there needs to be a transition into full-time employment.

Undoubtedly, young Australians are a very digitally engaged cohort. How could government leverage this engagement to address the social exclusion that coincides with unemployment? Young people are not a homogenous group and need targeted interventions. Using digital capabilities could be the most effective way to address different cohorts and ensure their continual engagement with the labour market.

The concept of behavioural economics has been successful in significantly changing behaviours such as those related to health and tax, leaving a promising opportunity for implementation in the field of social inclusion. Perhaps leveraging digital to implement a simple “nudge” could make a difference in employment opportunities for young Australians. For example, an experiment in Canada showed that making changes as small as messaging on a job search website, significantly increased clicks and sped up the job search process. If youth are being socially excluded, how do we reach out to them? The answer may lie in leveraging rare Pokémon as a way to best engage with the smartphone generation!

In the midst of a youth unemployment crisis, we need to develop interventions targeted at vulnerable cohorts in order to maintain the strength of the Australian economy and a future that is bright for generations to come. Digital may enable policy makers to engage with groups at highest risk of becoming socially excluded.

This article was written by Belinda McKeon and Shayen Mackay from the SAP Institute for Digital Government. To find out more about the Institute, visit, follow us on Twitter @sapsidg, or email us at

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