Perspective: Lifelong learning in a time of flexible work

Perspective: Lifelong learning in a time of flexible work

A system that cultivates lifelong learning throughout a person’s career is more important than ever before. FYA’s recent New Work Standard report revealed that prior to the onset of COVID-19, young people were increasingly engaging in flexible work which has implications for learning they access throughout their lives.

Embracing learning through life

The current speed of change is unlike any previous generations’ experience and has significant impacts on how we’re training and reskilling for work. With the average young person likely to have 18 jobs across six different careers in their lifetime, the traditional model of ‘learn’ at school and ‘do’ at work is rapidly becoming outdated.

A lifetime of learning across a person’s career is fundamentally shifting the accountability of and investment in education and training. Currently only 19 percent of a person’s learning and training occurs after the age of 21, but by 2040, this number will more than double to 41 percent. This shift challenges the traditional model that education and training sits mainly with governments and educators, and increasingly places new responsibility and accountability with industry, the community and workers themselves.

A 15 year old today is looking towards a lifetime of learning that does not end at secondary, or vocational schooling, but, in fact, builds continuously on experiences in community and employment.

Access to quality learning in a time of flexible work

In the past a young person might have expected to have their learning and development supported throughout their career, particularly through graduate years and tailored learning programs for early stage career growth.

Unfortunately these expectations aren’t being met and the transition from full-time work in one job to many jobs has significant implications for young people’s growth and development. There is currently limited access to quality learning opportunities for workers, particularly workers engaged in flexible work (part-time, casual, self-employed and gig work) as detailed in FYA’s New Work Standard report. Since 1992, we’ve seen the share of part-time work for young people has increased from 33% of employment in 1992 to more than 57% in 2019, alongside this growth the share of young people in casual full-time employment has more than doubled. More recently, we have seen the emergence of the gig economy in Australia and the number of workers in the gig economy has rapidly grown by 340% since 2016.

If the trend towards increasingly flexible work continues, how can we effectively support young people to grow and develop? If you have three jobs across three different areas of work, who is responsible for providing learning and growth opportunities?

Through a number of focus groups conducted with young people across Australia FYA heard about the risks of flexible work for their growth and development. Young people highlighted that there is limited access to opportunities for progression including ways to build skills and networks.

To meet the changing requirements of an increasingly flexible workforce – which arguably the impacts of COVID-19 will further influence - risks for young workers have to be better managed. A new approach is needed to understand what ‘good work’ or ‘quality jobs’ are and how they could be paired with quality learning experiences.

The Good Work Standard

In order to meet this challenge, FYA’s New Work Standard report has developed the Good Work Standard. FYA analysed existing legal frameworks and tests, policy frameworks and voluntary codes, as well as expectations arising from workers surveys and feedback from the workshops. Based on these, we grouped and categorised key worker needs, community expectations and policy goals into four core elements that enable good work.

Putting the growth and development pillar into practice

Innovative approaches are needed to solve the lifelong learning challenges that flexible work presents. FYA’s Good Work Standard helps address the gap between current regulation and the changing nature of work to ensure young people do not get left behind.

Policy makers can think about putting the growth and development pillar into practice in a number of ways.

  • Explore how to provide access to low cost learning or lifelong learning accounts to promote growth and development and particularly to support workers who need to transition to different industries or job roles
  • Explore recognition of skills to ensure their portability across areas of work

The Good Work Standard recognises that workers are juggling a range of conditions and personal goals, and that they have growth and wellbeing priorities as well as earning a living. By recognising young learners through a different system, we can start to build better pathways between learning environments, from school to work.

Kelly Fawcett is Research and Policy Lead at the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA)