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
3. Young people's circumstances

3. Young people's circumstances

This chapter addresses RQ3: What are the circumstances whereby young people find themselves in precarious work / contractual conditions, as shown in Table 1.2 in Chapter 1. This chapter reports on what attracted them to their job, their circumstances in general as well as the number of jobs they have and hours they work.

Chapter 3 – Key points

The main reasons people were attracted to their job were financial security (31% of the sample) and to top-up their income (20%). Those in precarious or flexible work were much more likely than others to be working to top-up their income (24% compared with 16% of those not in precarious or flexible work), and this rises to 30% for the younger group (those aged 16-19).

Practicality was also important for those in precarious or flexible work, with location (22%) and flexibility of shifts and hours (19%) given as reasons for working in their most recent job.

Almost all (94%) of those currently in precarious or flexible work had one job.

Those in precarious or flexible work were typically working just a few hours each week. A third (34%) worked 14 hours or less, and this rose to nearly half (46%) for the younger age group. Notably a quarter (26%) of the older age group were working 31-40 hours a week.

3.1 Reason for working

The quantitative results showed there were a number of different reasons why young people were attracted to their job. Table 3.1 shows the main reason for working was financial security; however those not in precarious or flexible work were significantly more likely to give this reason for working (39%) than those in precarious or flexible work (25%).

Conversely, those in precarious or flexible work were significantly more likely to say that they wanted the job to top-up their income (24% compared to 16% not precarious / flexible) and for the flexibility of shifts (19% compared to 13% not precarious / flexible). They were significantly less likely to have been attracted to the job because they wanted experience in the sector or role, the number of working hours, opportunity to progress, the reputation of the company and the good benefits package.

Q9. What attracted you to the main job you currently do/recently held?

Table 3.1: Attraction to most recent job
Total Sample Not precarious / flexible Precarious / flexible
Financial security / Good pay 31% 39% 25%
To top-up my income 20% 16% 24%
Location 24% 26% 22%
Flexibility of shifts/hours 17% 13% 19%
Wanted experience in the sector/role/ stepping stone to other jobs 18% 21% 15%
Was struggling to find a job 17% 16% 17%
The number of working hours 13% 16% 11%
My friends/family members work there 9% 7% 11%
Opportunity to develop/progress 13% 19% 8%
Reputation of the company 10% 13% 7%
Good benefits/rewards/pension 9% 15% 4%
Felt pressured by parents/partner/family to get a job 3% 3% 3%
Felt pressured by the job centre/ benefits agency to get a job 2% 1% 2%
Opportunity to travel 2% 2% 1%
Other 5% 4% 6%
Unsure/Don't know 2% 2% 1%

Amongst the precarious / flexible workers, the younger age group (30%), those financially dependent on someone else (27%) and those in full time education (31%) were more likely to be attracted to the job as they wanted to top-up their income; whereas the older group were more likely to be attracted to the flexibility of shifts or hours (23%). Those financially dependent on someone else were more likely to be attracted to the job because of the location (25%). The qualitative findings suggest that in some circumstances this is due to them still living at home with their parents.

The evidence reviewed supported the quantitative results. Research from the CIPD (2017) found that one of the biggest attractions of working specifically in the gig economy amongst 18-29 year olds was to provide back-up income (29%) so they didn't have to worry about the security of a regular income. This research was carried out online, specifically with the gig economy only and therefore caution should be applied when comparing results.

The qualitative findings supported the quantitative results. For most of the qualitative respondents it was their first experience of working and it therefore provided them with some independence and experience.

"I quite like it and it's good just now because I just left school and it's getting me used to working and things and dealing with the public" (Galashiels focus group participant)

"Yeah, I mean I wanted to take up some spare time and get experience, stuff to write down on my CV." (Dundee focus group participant)

"I did have a job at school and that helped me a lot with my interview because they could see that I've worked before. But I do think it's quite hard to go from being at school every day with your friends to actually having to work with the public." (Galashiels focus group participants)

The majority of the younger group (16-19 year olds) wanted to earn money to be able to afford to socialise with friends or buy things for themselves. Some of the qualitative respondents had more responsibilities that they needed to earn money for, such as mobile phone bills, paying for their car and/or petrol. A small minority of the qualitative sample (mainly 20-24 years old) were financially independent and had to pay for rent and household bills.

"I got my National Insurance number and I handed my CV away to everywhere because I was desperate for money. That was the first one that came back and I got it." (Glasgow focus group participant)

"I was last out of my friends to turn 16 so they had been working for like over a year before me and all of them would work at Ibrox, Parkhead, Hampden and it's really easy to get a job so I just went for that." (Glasgow focus group participant)

"To be honest it was just I needed a job, because trying to afford stuff for college and save up for other things and that, so, I was just looking through Indeed." (Dundee focus group participant)

Those who were planning to or were currently at university or college felt that having employment experience on their CV would benefit them at a later date during university or after graduating. A couple of respondents wanted to gain experience in the actual sector that they were interested in as they felt it would reflect well on their CV.

"It makes you more employable after uni. If you've had a job throughout, otherwise you've not had a job in four years and you're trying to find one now." (Dundee focus group participant)

"I live with my mum as well and I also get EMA so it's obviously not exactly like I need the money because I'm already getting money, it's more for getting that experience for my CV." (Glasgow focus group participant)

Other younger respondents (16-19 year olds) felt that a casual job / job with a zero hours contract was easier to get and would allow them to gain useful work experience, and so enable them to move on to a better part time job in the future.

"I had obviously applied for retail jobs in the past and they never let you in because you never have any experience. But if you have done work like this [temporary food kiosk] you can work retail, as it gives you experience working with people." (Glasgow focus group participant)

For most of the qualitative respondents, the type of job they had was more due to choice than necessity. They wanted to earn money, but only had limited time available due to other commitments such as school, college, university, studying, sports associations, etc. Therefore a job that provided them with flexible hours, short term contracts and reasonable pay worked for them at this stage in their life. For those trying to decide on the type of employment / career they want to pursue; short-term, rolling contracts helped them gain experience in difference areas and can contribute towards their decision-making. They did comment that there were disadvantages associated with the type of work and 'contracts' they have; but they needed the money or the flexibility and therefore traded this off for some of the less appealing aspects of the job. This is reported in more detail in Chapter 6 on 'experiences of young people in precarious or flexible work'.

3.2 Number of jobs and hours worked

The evidence review alluded to some people in these precarious or flexible working positions, in particular those in the gig economy, taking on a number of jobs to enable them to earn enough to live a decent life or top–up their main income (CIPD, To gig or not to gig? Stories from a modern economy, 2017). However, this was not the case for participants in this study. Almost all of the quantitative respondents who were currently employed only had one job (Figure 3.1). The age of this audience and their circumstances may have impacted on this, with some being in education or only having time for one job.

Figure 3.1: Number of jobs currently held

Q3.How many jobs do you currently have?

Bar chart showing number of jobs held (displayed as a percentage holding 1,2 and 3 jobs)

Base (all who are currently working): 879

Precarious/flexible 428

Not precarious/flexible 450

Figure 3.2 shows that there were differences in the number of hours worked by the two key sub-groups. Those in precarious or flexible work worked a range of hours; however they were significantly more likely to work 14 hours a week or less (34%) compared to only 11% of those not in precarious or flexible work. Those not in precarious or flexible work were more likely to work 31 to 50 hours a week (58%).

Figure 3.2: Hours worked each week

Q2.How many hours do you work each week?

Bar chart showing number of hours worked each week by respondents (displayed as a percentage, with respondents selecting which range of hours applies to them for example up to 10 hours each week.)

Base (all):

Precarious/flexible 569

Not precarious/flexible 473

Again, there were reported differences by age, financial dependency and education status among those in precarious or flexible work. The younger group were more likely to work up to 14 hours a week (46%) than the older group (25%); whereas the older group were more likely to work 31 to 40 hours a week (26%) compared to the younger group (14%). Similar differences are noted across education status and financial responsibility. Those in education were more likely to work shorter hours, possibly due to their commitment to school and studying, whereas those not in education were more likely to work 31-40 hours. Those working longer hours were more likely to be financially independent and therefore probably need the larger income to support themselves financially.

The qualitative research findings showed that some of the respondents were happy to have a job and to be earning money but there was a lack of opportunities to increase the hours that they work, especially on their terms (e.g. retain flexibility). This is further supported by the proportion in the quantitative study that stated they wanted to increase their working hours. This is reported in full under Chapter 7, Changing working circumstances.