Making our work work for us: why consider young people’s narratives of work?

The way that young people think about their working futures is twined with the future of our planet and social order, offering both a sign of the times and a call for action to foster hope for working futures. While the recent youth action against climate change shows the hope that young people carry, it also shows the worry about the future of the planet, and in turn their futures, that currently weighs on young people. This post on young people’s narratives of work by Jennifer Malbon is based on her recent chapter in ‘Challenging future practice possibilities’, with Dr. Steve Cork.  

Youth are at the forefront of the rapid changes in the way work works in our society, encompassing mega-trends that influence innovation opportunities, policy adaptations, and uncertainty in career directions. The narratives that young people create about their working futures are both a sign of the times and worthy of attention in themselves.

In approaching intergenerational conversations in the face of mega-trends – like globalisation, climate change, precarity, and technological changes - the role of youth narratives is a powerful force shaping the attitudes of (and about) young people in their working life.

In our chapter on youth narratives and the future of work in the new book ‘Challenging future practice possibilities’, Dr Steve Cork and I suggest that it is important to consider how the narratives around work, the future, and working futures are constructed by young people.  Understanding how young people are expressing hope or fear in the face of these work related uncertainties is essential for understanding how to foster these to bring positive outcomes for young people and working futures.

The way that narratives about the future of work are framed can enable or constrain young people in their move from their education into meaningful work, occupational development and skill development.

Uncertain and even fearful generational narratives in the face of insecure conditions are not a new circumstance. Each generation faces their own social, environmental and economic challenges over time – large scale social concerns such as nuclear peace and climate change are tied to attitudes of the future of work for each generation.

Policy-makers have the ability to shape important conditions and narratives that influence the personal wellbeing of young people navigating a world of work-related uncertainty. Youth focussed policy is integral to furthering intergenerational equity both in work and beyond.

Australia21’s 2017 ‘Making our Future Work’ research project engaged young people in a workshop regarding their future narratives of work. Participants, aged between 17-25, were all at different stages of their career and education. Some expressed more concern than hope, and others more hope than concern. They shared ideas about uncertainty in education pathways, previously un-modeled career paths and social equity concerns. These ideas and perceptions interact in a way influences the navigation of work, and perceptions of the future generally. From the workshop, one thing became clear – that a linear, singular future narrative for young people is both insufficient and impossible.

There is ample opportunity for policy makers to adapt to the key challenges and harness opportunities to support young people to have positive narratives about work futures, including but definitely not limited to:

-       educational skill development programs,

-       increased action on climate change,

-       gender equity policies within workplaces and nation-wide, and;

-       intersectional policy-making approaches regarding access to work.

In enabling young people to feel hope and positivity in the face of a rapidly changing workforce, cultivating active and positive future narratives can help to equip young people with the skills in navigating this complex context.

This is not just about producing a mere story of hope for a generation: a true narrative of hope can only occur through supported policies and programs that allow and enable young people to make work work for them.




 Cork S and Malbon J (2019) ‘Young People’s hopes and fears for the future’, in Challenging future practice possibilities, eds. Higgs J, Cork S, Horsfall D, Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Brill-Sense Publishers.

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