The problem of youth unemployment in a de-industrialising city: a genealogy of employability skills, innovation and enterprise

Noonan, M 2019, The problem of youth unemployment in a de-industrialising city: a genealogy of employability skills, innovation and enterprise, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Education, RMIT University.

Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title The problem of youth unemployment in a de-industrialising city: a genealogy of employability skills, innovation and enterprise
Author(s) Noonan, M
Year 2019
Abstract The city of Geelong, in Victoria, Australia, was, for much of the 20th century, a booming regional centre, boasting an array of industrial manufacturing operations that included oil refining, aluminium smelting, car manufacturing and glass making, as well as a significant textile and clothing industry (Johnson 2009a). This strong industrial economic base afforded high rates of participation across the age ranges in a labour market that became more ethnically diverse with waves of migration, even as it remained gender segregated. In the post war period, dominant social narratives promised that employees of Geelong's major industries, such as the Ford Motor Company and International Harvester, could expect a 'job for life'. However, through the late 20th century, the impacts of successive economic recessions and industry restructuring policies fell heavily on Australia's industrial towns and cities, and their counterparts across the OECD and European Union. As de-industrialisation accelerated through the 1980s and 1990s, many of Australia's industrial towns and cities were transformed into unemployment blackspots, with rates of youth unemployment peaking at levels not seen since the Great Depression of the 1920s and 1930s. In the 21st century, de-industrialisation, 'neoliberal' globalisation, and emergent, algorithmically-energised circuits of capitalist accumulation are among a complex array of forces and developments shaping the future of work for young people in 'Rust Belt' places such as Geelong. Entrepreneurialism, innovation and creativity are increasingly understood as critical factors in the economic recovery of 'Rust Belt' cities, and in the employment futures of the young people who live in these places.

This research project adopts a genealogical ethos that seeks to problematise the concepts of 'employability skills', 'innovation'and 'enterprise', and to ask how these complex, contested, often ambiguous concepts have emerged, at different moments since the 1980s, as promising a 'solution' to the problem of youth unemployment. Genealogy is a method of historical inquiry informed by the work of French philosopher and historian Michel Foucault. It is a practice of 'critical and effective history' (Dean 1994) that attempts to problematise and unsettle the taken-for-granted components of our present social reality, and to uncover the multiple, diverse, often non-linear trajectories that comprise the 'history of the present'. The genealogical ethos that I adopt in this project allows me to identify and analyse some of the key 'episodes', 'events', and 'moments' (Vucetic 2011) that have shaped understandings of young people's employability skills, innovation and enterprise, and the ways in which these 'capabilities' have promised - at different times and in different, but also similar ways - to promote young people's participation in changing labour markets.

This analysis is presented in a series of chapters that focus close attention on 'figures' such as the Finn, Mayer and Carmichael reports and the ways in which the concept of 'employability skills' came to figure prominently in the restructuring of Australian education (general and vocational) at the start of the 1990s; the early 2000s attempt by groups in Geelong to attract a Guggenheim Museum as part of a place-based 'innovation' agenda that echoed more regional, national and international trajectories; the Foundation for Young Australians' New Work Order series that, over the last five years, has 'invested' heavily in the idea of young people's 'enterprise skills' in a time of digital disruption; and, finally, the gendered, aestheticised ways in which young people's employability skills, innovation and enterprise are represented in a prominent 'lifestyle' publication in the 'Rust Belt' city of Geelong.

The thesis argues that, across the last 40 years, the discourses around young people's participation in education, training and the labour market have been powerfully reshaped by concerns to develop young people's 'human capital'. In Australia, in the context of the 'Accord' politics advocated by the Hawke Labor Government in the 1980s, a consensus emerged among policymakers that reform of education and training systems should be harnessed much more firmly to the imperatives of national economic recovery and reconstruction. However, my analysis reveals that these discourses are powerfully shaped by assumptions about the type of young person who is ideally positioned to acquire the kinds of human capital that it is thought will provide them with a degree of 'insurance' against unemployment and underemployment, and that will allow them to navigate future working lives that, it is claimed, will be characterised by almost constant churn and change. The 'ideal subject' that emerges in, and through, these 'human capital' discourses is a young person unencumbered by disadvantage or disability, apparently existing apart from, or outside of, the structures of gender, class, and race. These discourses of young people's employability skills, innovation and enterprise display a tendency to view 'young people' in the abstract: as disembodied, of no particular gender or socioeconomic background, and from no particular place. What this thesis argues is that bodies, gender, class and place continue to matter for how it is that youth studies should continue to work with, and through, the challenges and opportunities that structure young people's increasingly precarious engagements with education, training and work - in the present and the future.
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Education
Subjects Sociology of Education
Social Change
Keyword(s) youth unemployment
labour markets
education and training
human capital
employability skills
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Created: Mon, 23 Mar 2020, 14:46:53 EST by Keely Chapman
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