How are young Brits finding work? Moving down under

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In a new series on the youth job crisis, we examine what young people are doing to find gainful employment. This week, we look at the mass migration to countries like Australia, where the weather and jobs market look a lot sunnier

Iona Bain

Thatcherite Minister Norman Tebbit is perhaps most famous for his plea to the unemployed in 1981 – “get on yer bike” if you want to find work.

31 years later and young people are really taking this stern cry to heart – only they’re getting on a plane, not a two-wheeler, in hot pursuit of a better life.

The destination? Australia, land of sun-soaked beaches and the rugged outback, all populated by toned, tanned types who may not be the sharpest knives in the drawer but can throw a fantastic barbie nonetheless.

Okay, there may be a few wrong-headed myths surrounding the good people of Australia. But its hedonistic reputation has always held a special allure for Brits who want to escape abroad. According to the Institute for Public Policy Research, over 1.3 million UK citizens live in the country, making it the most popular destination for British expats by a long chalk.

But in the past year, there has been a sudden increase in the number of young Brits exchanging their trusty pounds into Aussie dollars –27%, to be exact.

This trend is confirmed by a 10% jump in 18-30 year olds booking extended stays in the country, as one student travel agency reports that their customers are booking flights to Sydney and Melbourne “in their droves”.

So what’s going on? Sadly, it seems more and more young people are heading ‘down under’ out of desperation rather than desire. Britain’s youth unemployment rate remains at a record high. The rise in university fees this year is sure to deter a swathe of young Brits from higher education, as many become (perhaps rightly) sceptical about the real value of degrees. Twenty and thirty somethings have little to lose by upping sticks and moving to a much more promising labour market, says Alistair Cotton at Currencies Direct, which only recently noticed the spike in dollar exchanges among its young customers.

“Young, lower-income individuals are weighing up the situation in the UK, with employment prospects and the economy both looking weak, and realising that the grass is actually greener down under.”

Just ask 30-year old Emma Ingham (above), who moved to Australia from the UK four months ago on a working holiday visa.

“For me Australia seemed the obvious choice for the first year of my 30’s. I’m earning as much selling wine 30 hours a week as I did working as an interior designer for 40 hours a week in London!”

It helps that Emma could obtain a one year visa for just $270 (approx. £180) – peanuts compared to the $4,000 (or £2680) skilled migrant visa. The visa is aimed at young people aged 18 – 30 who are interested in spending a year in short-term employment. This lets young people dip their toes into the water and see whether they like the temperature. According to the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship, since 2010 there has been a 30% increase in Brits moving to Australia on a one-year working holiday visa.

If you’re really struggling in this hopeless jobs market, there is little to stop you from hopping on that plane. Think about it. A typical twenty something has very few assets to worry about. In fact, living out of a suitcase has become a conscious choice for some disciplined and non-materialistic millennials out there, who use smartphones and computers for their entertainment, work and social lives, allowing them to keep their possessions down to a minimum. These new, young minimalists are adaptable and free-spirited (as twenty somethings should be!)

This “less is more philosophy” helps them consume less, deal with the vagaries of renting (which has become an inevitable cross to bear) and get on their bike to find jobs. So long as they’ve managed to hold onto a bike, ahem. All in all, a pretty savvy approach to living – if you’re low maintenance enough to pull it off.

Plus, most young people just have to take care of themselves and are yet to worry about family obligations (save a few long-distance calls to reassure mum you haven’t been eaten by a dingo).

It also doesn’t harm that Australia’s economy is faring much better than Britain, officially in a double-dip recession and struggling to deal with its gargantuan deficit.

But could this new exodus of young workers actually be harming the UK economy even more? Alastair Cotton says: “The dangerous thing is if a significant percentage of the British workforce continues to vote with their feet and leverage currency rates abroad. The market will rightly interpret this as a lack of faith in the UK economy – a vicious cycle leading to a weaker pound and ultimately fewer jobs at home.”

Yet it’s next week’s pay packet, not next year’s economic forecast, that will be worrying your unemployed young Brit, who won’t give a jot about the macro-economic picture, so long as there is a job out there with their name on it.

This could just be a short-term solution for young Brits who need a shot in the arm – after all, these visas only last a year. And I’ve spoken to some older, wiser souls this week who say this is not a new development. Previous generations have also been lured down under to find work, only to return to good ol’ Blighty in the end.

But will it be different this time? Could we see more young people staying abroad for longer – perhaps indefinitely?

Ironically, the sentiment of “British jobs for British workers” (one I discussed only a few weeks ago) could soon be eclipsed by a new, rather topsy turvy slogan: “Australian jobs for British workers!”

The Daily Mail recently covered the story of a 42 year old British dad, David Jones, who was inundated with job offers within two weeks of emigrating to Brisbane, despite struggling for years on end in Cumbria.

He also paid tribute to the generosity of the Australian people, who he said were more proud of their country and prepared to work, rather than live on benefits.

“I looked at my children and thought, “What would be there for them by the time they reach adulthood?” I couldn’t see anything – unless they wanted to get pregnant or get someone pregnant. Then they could claim a house and benefit handouts. Alternatively they could stick in and work hard at school. They could go to sixth form, go to university – and get saddled with thousands of pounds of debt and have no job prospects. It broke my heart.”

Perhaps moving to Australia is one of the more tempting ways to get away from this depressing state of affairs (and even more tempting every time I catch a glimpse of the beautiful people on Neighbours. Not that I regularly watch Channel 5 during the day or anything…)

But there may be other, less drastic ways to find work in this tricky jobs market. It might not start with a search at the Job Centre, continue with a traditional job interview and end in a conventional 9 to 5 job. Nonetheless, young people can still get themselves noticed, improve their CV and find enough work to pay their bills and enjoy life. Perhaps young people need to completely reframe their approach to the world of work, moving away from job (and status) hunting to creating their own opportunities and identifying gaps in the market, and needs that aren’t being served. If they do this, perhaps they can form a new generation of entrepreneurs that can get ALL of us out of this economic hole.

Next week, I’ll be looking at whether the freelance and part-time jobs revolution could help those struggling with Britain’s shaky labour market…

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