Underemployment and unemployment can have a devastating effect on school leavers and graduates trying to find their niche in the workplace.

As a parent I have become increasingly concerned about the quality of careers services within our schools and universities, and it seems I am not alone in this. For the most part, they are failing our children.

No matter how qualified graduates and school leavers are, too few of them know what to expect when they leave the comfort of school or university to enter the workforce. Even fewer have the jobseeking skills they need to compete in the modern job market. This is having dire consequences for their mental health.

Expectations versus reality

The disconnect between young people’s expectations of establishing an instant, lifelong, secure and satisfying career and the reality of an often-brutal job market can very quickly create disaffected and depressed young adults with diminishing prospects.

Many graduates are led to believe that there will be people lining up to employ them in their chosen industry. Tertiary institutions, the media and even us parents are all unwittingly complicit in setting these expectations in young people.

However, the sad reality is that when young people come out of tertiary education they’re competing with approximately 400,000 other graduates each year in a landscape where youth unemployment is more than double the national average, and in which employers are looking for previous experience, which many of these graduates don’t have.

On top of that, many of the entry-level jobs that we remember have disappeared. They’ve been replaced by technology or moved to cheaper labour markets overseas. This has made it much harder for this generation to get a job than it was for us when we entered the job market over thirty years ago.

The effects of underemployment and unemployment

In 2015, only 65 per cent[1] of university graduates and 58 per cent of Cert III or higher graduates were in full-time work four months after graduating. Almost two-thirds (62 per cent)[2] of graduate VET students had jobs that were not relevant to their course. Feelings of inadequacy, or being unchallenged or overqualified for the job, are understandably rife in these young people. I know this firsthand: the constant knockbacks and rejection that my son experienced had a dramatic impact on his confidence and feelings of self-worth.

In Australia, research[3] has found that the rising rate of unemployment is being matched by increasing levels of anxiety, stress and depression. Our children need better support to help them find meaningful careers so they can lead happy and productive work and personal lives.

The importance of a quick resolution

It’s vital that we help our qualified, talented young adults to find their niche as soon as possible before their health is impacted. Research indicates[4] that short-term unemployment does not significantly harm mental health. But, like chronic illness, unemployment needs to be nipped in the bud. Talent needs to be harnessed before it is wasted.

Our role as a supportive network of family, friends and mentors is priceless when a young person is unemployed or underemployed – it’s really important that they have someone to turn to for advice and guidance during this stressful time in their lives.

If your child is struggling to find their niche in the workplace and is starting to feel the effects, TwoPointZero can help with professional career guidance and coaching. Take the first step towards making positive change in their life by contacting us.

About the Author

Steve Shepherd is the CEO of TwoPointZero Career Coaching and a father of two young adults. Steve established TwoPointZero as a specialist career coaching business to help young adults make the transition from education to employment.


[1] Report card 2015: How are young people faring in the transition from school to work?, Foundation for Young Australians

[2] Report card 2016: Renewing Australia’s promise, Foundation for Young Australians

[3] Rising unemployment among young Aussies matched by increasing anxiety, depression and stress, Roy Morgan Research

[4] Exploring the link between unemployment and mental health outcomes, American Psychological Association