Publication - Research and analysis

Young people's experiences of precarious and flexible work – Main Report

The research report 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 – Main Report
8. Conclusions

8. Conclusions

This study was conducted to increase knowledge about the prevalence and experience of precarious and flexible work amongst 16-24 year olds in Scotland. The research was conducted and analysed prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.

8.1 Defining the issue

The evidence review concluded that there are gaps in knowledge regarding precarious and flexible work amongst 16-24 year olds in Scotland: there are currently limited published statistics on Scotland's 16-24 year olds who are in precarious or flexible employment, and many of the research reports available focus solely on those on zero hours contracts. Consequently, one of the key research questions addressed was to determine the range of potentially precarious or flexible working conditions experienced by young people.

This research study covered numerous other types of employment and contracts, in addition to zero hours contracts. The research reported that over half of the sample of 16-24 year olds in Scotland (55%) were categorised as working in a precarious or flexible position (Figure 4.4). This was based on the definition in Box 2.1 above. This was mainly temporary (26%) or casual (25%) work, and most respondents had a zero hours contract (25%), just turned up for work when asked (24%) or had a varying hours contract (13%). Those in precarious or flexible positions were also more likely to work in the hotel and restaurant sector compared to those not in these positions.

The research clearly showed differences in experiences, perceptions and job characteristics between those who were categorised as in precarious or flexible work and those who were not. Those in a precarious or flexible position were less likely to rate their satisfaction with the terms of their employment an 8, 9 or 10 out of 10 (50%) compared to those not in a precarious or flexible position (73%). They were also significantly less likely to state that they enjoy the work (33%) compared to those not working in these positions (40%). It is important to note that not all of those categorised as being in precarious or flexible work viewed it as a negative experience. There were specific groups of people who were content with the position they were in e.g. saying that it suits their current circumstances, it is flexible; however there are also other groups that have concerns, and were keen to change their working situation.

8.2 The evidence

A robust quantitative sample of 16-24 year olds in employment was achieved. This allowed for robust analysis to be conducted on various sub-groups of interest. In addition the qualitative element added in-depth and valuable insights, supporting and providing context to the quantitative findings.

8.3 Key audience

There were many statistically significant differences reported across different facets of the respondents' work between those in precarious or flexible work and those who were not, demonstrating the level and nature of insecurity associated with precarious and flexible work (e.g. no written contract, limited employment rights, and no guaranteed hours). Interestingly, there were also differences in the experiences and views between different sub-groups within the precarious or flexible working category, such as between different age groups, those not in education and students, and those who were financially independent and those who weren't.

The findings suggest a "progression" as the audience gets older and circumstances change, e.g. move from school to university or college. Those who were categorised as in precarious or flexible work and were younger (16-19 years old), in education or financially dependent were more likely to be at the higher end of precariousness as they were more likely to not have a written contract and just turn up for work when asked; therefore having very limited security or follow formal procedures. While only half (50%) of those who were older (20-24 years old) had a written contract with their employer, the proportion was even lower (36%) for the younger age group. However, some of the younger age group were content with this situation: e.g. flexibility works for their current circumstances, such as still being at school, and as suggested by the qualitative findings they expressed a lot of trust in their employer to not exploit them. There is a proportion of the sample still in education or financially dependent and therefore the impact of precarious employment for these groups may be reduced by access to other sources of income or safety nets.

However, the findings highlighted that there are also specific sub-groups not content with their current position: they have lower levels of satisfaction and were keen to change their working situation in the next 12 months.

Findings suggested that some may not be aware of their rights or that as a minimum a written statement outlining terms and conditions should still be provided even if working flexible hours.

8.4 Satisfaction

The type of employment position people were in also impacted on their overall levels of satisfaction with their terms of employment. Those in precarious or flexible positions were less likely to be satisfied (50%) than those who weren't in those positions (73%).

Satisfaction generally was due to enjoying the work and the job, liking their colleagues, good company to work for in general, flexibility in shifts and for some the short-term aspect of it meant they were content because it suited their circumstances at that time. The other positive characteristic cited was location.

Many of the reasons cited for being dissatisfied were related to employment practices such as the unpredictability of hours, allocation of hours, the level of pay, the lack of a contract which all contributes to a feeling of insecurity or a lack of control. Management issues were also cited. Other negative aspects of these types of positions reported were unsociable hours, the lack of benefits and the number of hours allocated not being suitable. Again these are all aspects that the employer is in control of and therefore the employee has very little autonomy over.

The qualitative findings suggest that people value different aspects of their work depending on their circumstances. There was an element of having to trade off one aspect of work for another. Some people were prepared to sacrifice the insecurity and lack of a contract for the ability to have flexibility in the hours that they worked or some were willing to accept low pay in order to gain experience in an industry they want to work in. Again, this suggests that some young people require further assistance to navigate the labour market, especially with contracts of employment, their rights and working conditions.

Those who were least satisfied were precarious or flexible workers who were not in education and wanted to change their working situation, thus suggesting that this may be a key group who require support.

8.5 What is needed

Changing working circumstances

The research found that half (49%) of those in precarious or flexible work would like to change their working situation in the next year compared to only a quarter of those not in precarious or flexible positions (24%) suggesting that the precarious/flexible nature of the job contributes towards this. The majority wanted to move to another company. Those in precarious or flexible positions who wanted to change their working circumstances were at the higher end of precariousness with a larger proportion being in temporary or casual work, on zero hours contracts and have no guaranteed hours than those not wanting to change their working situation.

Barriers exist for those wanting to change their working situation. Those who were in precarious or flexible positions and not in education lacked confidence, qualifications and felt that there was a lack of alternative jobs, more so than their counterparts who were in education. Qualitative findings also suggested that a small number felt trapped in the cycle of zero hours contracts because of these barriers.

In conclusion there were four distinct groups, some who require more support than others:

1. Those in a precarious/flexible position, not in education and wanting to change working circumstances;

2. Those in a precarious/flexible position, in education and wanting to change working circumstances;

3. Those in a precarious/flexible position and who don't want to change working circumstances; and

4. Those not precarious/flexible position.

Those not in precarious/flexible positions are not the focus for this study as their employment is considered more secure. Those who are in precarious or flexible work but don't want to change their working circumstances are more content with their employment terms overall, and their current employment works well for their circumstances.

There are two groups looking to change jobs, and who may require support. The results have shown that those not in education who have found themselves in this position are the most dissatisfied and disenfranchised with their current employment. They are working longer hours, the least satisfied across all groups and have a lack of qualifications and confidence. They want to improve their prospects and change their shift patterns. Their main reasons for working in their current position was due to a struggle to find a job, the location and the financial security. This differed from those in education. Further, the qualitative research indicated that those in education looking to change jobs were is some cases looking to move on to professional appointments (those drawing on their new academic qualifications) and would have support from their college/university in their job search.

If there is a need to prioritise, evidence suggests that support for the 'not-in-education' sub-group is where the most immediate support is required. The remainder of the conclusions focus on the support that would be helpful for this particular group.

Information, advice and guidance

Those not in education wishing to change their working circumstances tended to use word of mouth previously to find their current role but also were more likely than those in education to use job websites and recruitment agencies, suggesting that they tend to use more traditional forms of job seeking. Partnership activity with these more traditional forms of recruitment may help this group.

As mentioned, young people in this sub-group often lacked confidence and qualifications, so the information and advice that would be most helpful for this group would be: help finding work experience or placement opportunities; help on changing career; and practical advice on how to progress out of insecure, zero hours or short term contracts. Online and face-to-face were the preferred methods of communication with this audience. Social media was also cited as a useful channel.

In addition to information and advice on progressing to their next job, it is also important that all young people are well informed about their employment rights. There is a need to ensure that all employers are complying with the law and uphold proper employment practices and that young people don't feel like they have to sacrifice one aspect of their job for another e.g. security (in the form of a contract) for flexible hours.

Future research

This report concludes that those in precarious or flexible positions, who are not in education and would like to change their working circumstances are the key sub-group for employment and support. The report identifies the main barriers faced by this sub-group in trying to change their working situation, their information and support needs, and their preferred channels of support. However, it also demonstrates that the sub-group is highly differentiated (by age, level of financial independence, and so on), and that there will be real value in accurately targeting resources within the sub-group. There would be value in conducting more in-depth qualitative research with this audience to develop a deeper understanding of this key sub-group's support needs.

This research was conducted prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. The likelihood is that the pandemic will have had an effect on the labour market landscape and on precarious and flexible work. Further research may be needed to determine how the pandemic has impacted these positions.


Contact

Email: youngpersonguar@gov.scot