Transitioning in the knowledge economy: Precarity and gender in regional youth labour markets

Larissa Bamberry, Fiona Macdonald, Kay Cook, Iain Campbell, Matthew Walker

Research output: Other contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


The transition to a knowledge economy has been an uneven, patchwork process globally, and nationally within Australia. Economic change has impacted differentially across Australian regions. Within regions it has had different impacts on men and women from different age groups, giving rise to new and changing power relationships and gender regimes. Youth employment opportunities have been particularly affected by economic transition to a knowledge economy.

High levels of unemployment among young people and regional concentrations of high youth unemployment have attracted a great deal of public concern and are currently the focus of renewed policy attention in Australia, as has been the case in many western European countries post-GFC. Much of the concern is to ensure young people engage with employment to prevent long-term unemployment and its potential scarring effects. However the focus on employment outcomes can been criticised for paying inadequate attention to the impact of gender on access to education, training and employment and the nature of job outcomes for young people, including the prevalence of precarious work, poor quality jobs and underemployment.

Youth employment opportunities occur at the intersection of key social institutions such as education and training systems, welfare systems, labour markets and gender regimes. Adding to this complexity is the variability of these institutions by place and over time. The transition from youth to adult, from student to worker is challenging, but these transitions become even more complex when the local labour market is transitioning to a knowledge economy.

Drawing on detailed regional census data in combination with in-depth interviews this paper will explore these issues in two regions, Burnie, a predominantly rural region in north west Tasmania and Whittlesea, an outer metropolitan region of Melbourne, Victoria in Australia.

Burnie has recently experienced a major industrial shift from a manufacturing-based regional economy to an increasingly knowledge-based economy. Despite the need for more highly skilled workers in the region, training and education opportunities are significantly constrained with less than half (45%) of all 18-25 year olds having completed the final years of high school. Amongst this age group, 71% are not undertaking any form of education or training. The region also has a distinctively gendered pattern of labour force participation, with 87% of young men in the labour market, (albeit with 12% unemployed) compared to only 69% of young women participating in the labour market (8% unemployed). While men’s participation rate is higher than the national average (79%), women’s is significantly lower (75%).

The situation in Whittlesea seems more positive, with high school completion rates of 72% and the proportion of those not attending education and training at only 55%. Labour force participation is close to the national average (80% for young men, (76% for young women). Unemployment levels are likewise less extreme than in Burnie. However, while young people in Whittlesea have access to capital city labour and training markets, they face a range of other complex issues relating to housing affordability and commuting to employment and education.

This paper will explore the lived experiences of young people negotiating post-school education and training, labour market entry, welfare support systems and local gender regimes in each of these regions as they negotiate the transition to the knowledge economy.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2016
EventGender, Work and Organisation Conference : 9th Biennial International Interdisciplinary conference - Keele University, Keele, United Kingdom
Duration: 29 Jun 201601 Jul 2016
Conference number: 9th (conference program)


ConferenceGender, Work and Organisation Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


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