Publication - Research and analysis

Young people's experiences of precarious and flexible work – Evidence Review

This evidence review presents findings on young people's experiences of precarious and flexible work. These work conditions included where young people had for example zero hours contracts, low wages, lack of progression opportunities, dissatisfaction with current employment, or varying hours.

Young people's experiences of precarious and flexible work – Evidence Review
Approach to the review

Approach to the review

The purpose of the review was to identify and review existing research and information on young people’s experiences of precarious and flexible work.

Defining the scope

The Scottish Government set out nine research questions (RQ) to be addressed by the research project. Different stages of the research project will answer different research questions. All nine research questions are shown below; however the documents and literature reviewed at this stage only answered some of the research questions. These have been identified in Table 2.1 below.

Table 2.1: Research questions and sub-questions

RQ1 - What are the range of potentially precarious or flexible working conditions experienced by young people in Scotland?

Sub-research question: Which of these are the most important / critical (e.g. in terms of their prevalence)?

Included in desk research: Yes

RQ2 - To what extent are young people aware of their contractual status (e.g. whether they are on a ZHC)? 

Sub-research question: What factors (if any) determine levels of awareness (e.g. sector of employment, demographic characteristics)?

Included in desk research: No

RQ3 - What are the circumstances whereby young people find themselves in precarious work / contractual conditions (e.g. ZHCs)? 

Sub-research question: Do they choose them voluntarily or have no option?

Included in desk research: Yes

RQ4 - What are the experiences (e.g. positive, negative, mixed) of young people in a range of potentially precarious or flexible working conditions (e.g. ZHCs, low wages, lack of progression opportunities)? 

Sub-research question: What factors (if any) determine these experiences (e.g. sector of employment, demographic characteristics)?

Included in desk research: Yes

RQ5 - Are there any particular disadvantages, challenges, advantages, opportunities etc. of different potentially precarious or flexible working conditions?

Included in desk research: Yes

RQ6 - What is it about the terms of employment that cause specific disadvantages? What type of contracts appear to be the most problematic and to who?

Included in desk research: No (Overlap RQ5)

RQ7 - To what extent can different potentially precarious or flexible working conditions be considered as ‘positive destinations’ for young people (e.g. do they offer opportunities for progression, fitting in around lifestyle / caring responsibilities etc.)? 

Sub-research question: Which young people are benefitting? What are their specific working conditions?

Included in desk research: No (Overlap RQ5)

RQ8 - What are the barriers that prevent young people who want to change jobs from doing so? 

Sub-research question: Does this differ by contractual status (e.g. ZHC) or other potentially precarious or flexible (depending on perspective) working conditions (e.g. low wages, lack of progression opportunities)?

Included in desk research: Yes

RQ9 - What (if any) type of information, advice and guidance do young people who want to change jobs require and what are their preferences for accessing this support (e.g. digital, online, face-to-face)? 

Sub-research question: Does this differ by contractual status (e.g. ZHC) or other potentially precarious or flexible (depending on perspective) working conditions (e.g. low wages, lack of progression opportunities)?

Included in desk research: No

When reporting on the findings for RQ5, it was apparent that some of the evidence overlaps with RQ6 and RQ7. A decision was made to report on the findings under RQ5 as a whole to avoid unnecessary repetition. Research questions not included in this report will be explored via the primary research.

Developing the search strategy

A fluid search strategy was adopted, whereby initial key search terms were identified based on information from the brief and the project team’s existing knowledge. The project team carried out searches across a range of sources using those search terms. The majority of searches were carried out via Google and Google Scholar. No academic databases were used. The list of search terms evolved over time based on the literature and information gathered.

A database was developed and used to record all relevant sources identified. Some documents or articles pointed to other relevant sources. These were added to the search and recorded on the search database. The search terms used are shown in table 2.2.

Table 2.2: Search terms used

Search terms used:

Precarious working

  • Zero hours contracts
  • Agency work
  • In Scotland

Flexible working

  • Casual work
  • Insecure work
  • Young People

Atypical working

  • Seasonal work
  • Gig economy
  • In UK

Identifying and collating relevant literature

On completion of the search approach detailed above a final list of 40 documents was identified. Key information about the documents was recorded in an excel database. The abstract, executive summary, conclusions or initial information from the document and articles were reviewed and prioritised. The prioritisation was based on the extent to which the article answered the research questions. Other exclusion criteria were also considered, such as excluding studies reported in languages other than English, studies published before 2010 and studies that do not cover countries from within the EEA. A small number of studies that fall within the exclusion criteria have been reviewed and included due to their relevance on a topic where sources were limited. 

On completion of the prioritisation exercise 27 documents were reviewed in more detail.

Limitations

The value of any literature or desk research review is limited by a number of factors relating to the documents included. These limiting factors include:

  • When the report was produced – the data, even though relevant, could be old or out of date 
  • Relevance – the research may have been conducted for a very specific purpose, which may not be directly relevant to the objectives of the review
  • Sample – the report may focus on a different population group or another geographical area, compared to the population of interest for the review (in this case, 16-24 year olds in Scotland)
  • Research method – the method used to gather the data and the sample size may mean that data is unreliable or not directly comparable to data described in other documents
  • Sample sizes – for some reports the sample size of quantitative research studies is not known. This means that statistical testing to explore differences and trends is limited

These limitations must be considered when drawing any conclusions from the desk research review. A table of the reports reviewed, the year it was published and information on its purpose is shown in Appendix 2.

It is important to note that there were limited reports and publications on this topic that specifically cover Scotland and/or 16-24 year olds. It has therefore been assumed that the experiences, advantages and disadvantages of those in precarious working positions across the UK or the EU would also broadly apply to those in Scotland. 


Contact

Email: youngpersonguar@gov.scot