Young women out of work

Figures show Queensland's overall female employment participation rate has been dropping for two years.
Figures show Queensland's overall female employment participation rate has been dropping for two years.

Everything from poor urban planning to lack of self confidence have been blamed for a downward trend of young women participating in Brisbane's labour market.

In State of Australian Cities 2012, released this week by federal Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese, Brisbane has recorded a significant drop in the labour participation rate of females aged 15 to 24 since 2008, qualifying it as a “city of note” alongside the Sunshine Coast and Wollongong.

The report shows the rate at just over 70 per cent, a level well below the 78 per cent mark recorded four years ago and even lower than the results for 2004 and 200.

Latest Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows Queensland's overall female employment participation rate has been trending down for the last two years, sitting at 59.7 per cent, a figure not seen since July 2005 and down from the measurement's all-time peak of 61.9 in November 2010.

And while larger shifts in job markets go some way to explaining the dips, some experts raise several key reasons why Brisbane's score is going backwards, some more surprising than others, and not all bad.

University of Queensland Business School labour force specialist Amanda Roan said the numbers could reflect growth in the amount of young women enrolled in full-time study and training.

Dr Roan said the evidence ran contrary to the common assumption lower participation rates meant young women were choosing home life and babies over their career.

“There has been an upward trend in female participation in education and training in recent years which is a good thing in some respects,” she said.

“However the figures do deserve closer attention because there may be other less positive factors at work – we haven't made huge inroads into young women working in trades, for example, which is a key component of Brisbane's economy.

“The downturn in retail and hospitality – areas that have traditionally been high employers of young women – may also be partly to blame.”

Putting off full-time work for the sake of extra study didn't necessarily reflect positively on a young woman's prospects, Randstad's Queensland human resources expert Mike Roddy suggests.

Speaking to broad employment trends, Mr Roddy said women were less likely to assert their position in the job market instead, preferring to skills build for longer than their male counterparts.

“We see that young women are far more likely to want to use a strong academic record, for example, to justify their employability,” he said.

“Young men on the other hand will tend to up-sell their credentials, sometimes even beyond what they actually have.”

Interestingly, the report shows there has also been a significant increase in the estimated value of female human capital in Australia's largest cities from 1996 to 2006, especially in Sydney and Melbourne.

“But when you look at Brisbane specifically, it's important to note that there are still significant barriers to female participation built into the city's fabric,” Mr Roddy said.

“A candidate for a job in Brisbane who needs to travel from Ipswich may not be prepared or able to handle the commute times, especially when you consider factors like lower likely incomes, the cost of child-care and the cost of transportation.”

The State of the Cities report highlighted the need for better urban planning including the improvement of road, rail and bus networks to better facilitate workforce participation across the board, factors Brisbane Lord Mayor Graham Quirk has said are considered in the city's new draft development blueprint.

But the report also raised the need for businesses to introduce greater workplace flexibility, including the ability to work from home.

And while Brisbane at 4.6 per cent currently sits just above the national average of 4 per cent, Mr Roddy said there was significant scope for improvement.

“Employers are looking for greater diversity and gender balance,” he said.

“But they don't realise that their own policies are working against this - agreements around supervision of employees is a big hindrance on occasion, and the sad reality is inflexible work environments are generally felt harder by women.”

This story Young women out of work first appeared on Brisbane Times.