Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

Youth Employment, Unemployment and School Participation

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

Youth Employment, Unemployment and School Participation

Article excerpt

This paper identifies and examines the trends in teenage labour force and school participation in Australia over the past 25 years. It covers a broad range of associated issues such as school retention, youth employment, and apprenticeships. The aim here is to determine the important movements in young persons' participation in post-compulsory education and the labour force, and the changing interaction between the two in recent decades. To this end, a model of secondary education participation is developed. The results from this work indicate that declining full-time employment and increasing income support for students have been the most important determinants of school participation in Australia over the last 25 years. The results of this paper have important implications for government policy on school participation.


The purpose of this paper is to examine trends and associated underlying factors affecting upper secondary education participation. The analysis includes an overview of the youth labour market, the alternatives to work which confront young people and the factors which play an important role in determining the balance between the two.

The findings from this research have several important implications for policy in the area of Australian secondary schooling. In 1991, the Finn report proposed a target of 95 per cent of all 19-year-olds to have completed Year 12 or some initial post-compulsory qualification (or at least be in the process of completing one) by 2001 (Australian Education Council Review Committee, 1991). At the time of Working nation (Keating, 1994) where this goal was endorsed, this figure was around only 77 per cent in Australia. However this constituted a dramatic increase in the accumulation of educational experience by young people in Australia when compared with a decade before. As can be seen below, a major component of this improvement was the rapid increase in school participation among teenagers over the course of the 1980s. A stated assumption of the Finn report was that continued increases in school participation would lead to Australia approaching this target over the 1990s. However, in recent years, participation rates in secondary education have fallen, due to improving employment conditions and a move by students towards vocational education. This paper examines the reasons for this outcome.

The next section provides an overview of trends in educational participation since 1980. This is followed by an analysis of labour market trends for teenagers and its links with educational participation. Other economic factors which might explain school participation are then considered. A formal economic model is developed and estimated. In the final section, the broad findings are summarised and policy implications discussed.

Participation in education of 15- to 19-year-olds

The current labour force and educational activities of Australians aged 15 to 19 are outlined in Table 1. Of a total population of 1 286 400 in this age group in June 1997, approximately 667 000 were attending school, overwhelmingly in a full-time capacity. Of this group, around 189 000, or 28.3 per cent, combined part-time work with full-time education. Females accounted for 55.2 per cent of this subset, while full-time employment among young people at school was uncommon.

Table 1 Labour force status of the civilian population aged 15 to 19: Full-time attendance at school or tertiary educational institution, June 1997 (000s)

Employment                        Attending a
and                                tertiary
educational           Attending   institution
status                 school      full-time

Full-time employed        0.5          1.6
Part-time employed      189.0        108.3
Unemployed               49.9         14.8
Not in labour force     427.6        101.3
Total                   667.0        226.0

                      Neither in
                      school nor
Employment            attending a
and                    tertiary
educational           institution    Civilian
status                 full-time    population

Full-time employed       198. … 
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