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The widening gap between UK school-leavers and Australia

Tom Griffiths, founder of, argues that those students who miss out on a University place are also missing out on a gap year in Australia due to an industry system that fails them.

As a result of the tuition fee rise tens of thousands of students who would ordinarily take a gap year have decided not to, and so have entered an already crowded admissions system. As a result, similar to squeezing a balloon, tens of thousands of other students will now not get University places and so be forced to take a gap year.

Last year around 200,000 young people applied for University and didn’t get in. This year the combination of (a) less courses as a result of University budget cuts (b) places already taken by those with the right grades who didn’t get in last year and so got in early this year and (c) the gap year anomaly, some experts are predicting over 220,000 not getting into University. I’ve even heard wild reports of up to 250,000. But we’ll see what the final number ends up. Whatever it is, it will be a large number.

And with nearly one million young people unemployed in the UK and unemployment high in regional areas, the big question is ‘What are these 200,000 young people going to do?’ Technically until they get a job or ‘sign on’ as unemployed they are on a gap year, so the gap year numbers certainly will grow this year. How many will travel during their year and make it to Australia? Who knows. My view that the Australian backpacker industry isn’t marketing their jobs hard enough to this UK group is well known.

If you’re an 18 year old NEET (‘Not in Education, Employment or Training’) in the UK the lure of well paid jobs in Australia is strong. Sadly as this is managed by a Tourist ‘Working Holiday Visa’ and not a ‘J1′ Visa similarly to the US, most of these people are put off by the expensive indirect route to jobs offered to them through travel companies, as opposed to a clean direct route through recruitment companies.

Next year everyone will be in the same boat in the UK, so the University deferral rate will return to the usual figures. University places and jobs for young people, however, are unlikely to return, so we’ve entered a period of a downward spiral as gradually more and more don’t get into University as the bottle-neck of demand out-stripping supply continues to grow.

So the customers for the Australian backpacker market in the UK exist, and they exist in numbers. The Australian market’s ability to unlock that value whilst tied to the WHV remains doubtful.

A model based on the J1 visa used in the US controlled by each Australian state whereby they issue work visas based on the jobs available, seems to be a sensible and logical way forward for a country with a shortage of labour to connect with a country with mass unemployment. Organisations like BUNAC and CCUSA already have the infrastructure and expertise for this in the UK, operating the J1 visas for the American market. The J1 job allocations for the US are usually full within months of opening the applications. It certainly looks like it’s time for Australia to follow suit.

Jumbos full of willing UK job-seekers should be taking off from Heathrow in 2012, flying direct into the regions where they’re needed. More UK workers in the region will mean more backpacker wealth and more economic disperal of the backpacker dollars into the travel sector.

We know there is an appetite for this at both ends. What is missing is industry pressure, Australian Government support and political will.

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  1. PeterO
    18 Aug 11
    2:50 pm
  2. Tom has raised some interesting points.

    I agree entirely with him on the marketing of jobs in the UK. We can do better in how we market the WHV and what work is available.

    Note that someone who is unemployable in the UK will also be unemployable in Australia – so we must be careful on what we promise and the expectations we create.

    Those with any experience of how changes are made to the visa systems in Australia know that regardless of industry and government support and political will, the advent of an Australian version of the J1 visa will not occur.

    A lot of work is required to develop the business case for change in the visa regime. At BYTAP we are in the process of delivering to all levels of government and industry the list of key changes that we would like to see happen to the current WHV program. This includes the involvement of the unions and various government departments and state and regional stakeholders that will all have input into any decisions that DIAC make.

    These encompass:

    1. The inclusion of hospitality and tourism work in regional areas for eligibility of the second year WHV
    2. Reduction in the cost of the WHV (or at the very least holding the costs of the Visa to CPI)
    3. Increase the age range from 18-30 to 18-35 in line with other countries
    4. Addition of new source countries
    5. The potential for a second chance to apply for another WHV upon completion of the first and with an appropriate gap – ie one WHV between 18-25, and a second one from age 26 – 30/35.

    How we go with the above reforms will depend upon the factors that Tom alludes to and work is well under way to help us achieve our goals.



  3. scotty
    18 Aug 11
    3:44 pm
  4. All very interesting……and FRUSTRATING!

    The J1 visa idea was raised on this forum recently (maybe by Tom, come to think of it…) and, as I said then, it should have been followed up by BTAP, etc with the relevant Government departments, so that it can be implemented as soon as practicable.

    Maybe comment from Peter O or Katrina G would shed some light on whether Immigration/Employment cogs are turning?

    In the meantime, I wonder how hard it would be to get Oz House (and the various State Houses on The Strand) to receive some funding from TA to pay some young`ens to walk the streets of London in sandwich boards advertising the virtues of working Down Under?

    How about an Aussie gap year flash mob at a football match in Manchester? What about buying some ad space on the Clockwork Orange in Glasgow, featuring job opportunities here?

    The floods and cyclones cruelled a huge amount of standard backpacker employment for the whole of this year (a major contributing factor to this years lower Queensland numbers,in particular) but 2012 is looking like a bumper year for all sorts of jobs. After all, an article in today’s Australian mentioned 38,000 new jobs opening in mining in the next 18 months and they`re already struggling to fill current vacancies.

    As more Aussies are drawn away to the high-paying mines inland, their previous employers will be looking for workers, any workers, to fill these new gaps. This fact and the bumper crops our country will have for the next few years as a result of all the floods means there will be a mix of rural and coastal jobs to fill with enthusiastic Gap year applicants.

    2011 has been a very bad year, especially for those affected by natural disasters ( here and abroad) but all the indications point to 2012 being a boom year for employment in Oz: we just need to make it easier for prospective foreign workers to A) learn about it and B) access it.

    Go J1 visas! GO, YOU GOOD THING!!

  5. scotty
    18 Aug 11
    3:47 pm
  6. Bugger! My bloody internet is slow-as, hey! Pick it apart and remove the J1 visa mentions, seeing how Peter read my mind as I started writing this. Cheers.

  7. Greg Cole
    19 Aug 11
    7:59 am
  8. So Tom, presumably all these young poms have a spare 4000 quid to get here and live and eat and pay rent, yes/no? Very middle class statements you make. This ain’t the USA and you don’t live in Mexico.

    BTAP needs to shift its priorities: there’s a queue of organisations lobbying for visa changes of which you are but one-and probably the least powerful of all of them. Get working on some quality goals and tasks that focus on fighting red tape for small businesses in the industry.

    Fees, permits, insurance. The hard stuff.

  9. Tui Eruera
    19 Aug 11
    11:16 am
  10. @Scotty please don’t mention “Flash Mobs” as an idea. They were original and innovative in 2009, but as we approach 2012 there dead and buried!!!

    Not that Tourism Australia can see that!

  11. John
    19 Aug 11
    1:18 pm
  12. My experience with 18 year old UK gap year workers is that they want to party and not work and largely should not have been allowed to leave their mothers apron strings for at least 4 more years.

    They are even worse if they travel in pairs.

  13. scotty
    19 Aug 11
    5:12 pm
  14. Geeze, Tui, I know they`ve been around but I still reckon ambush marketing can achieve a certain notoriety, due to its spontaneous and fun nature……you young`uns become such tech cynics so quickly nowadays, geeze!

    John, we were all young once.

    Some, as you describe, are too immature and needy to travel and work (check out some of the Trip Advisor reviews for proof: intolerantly “needy” defined!). Others are fully capable of handling the cultural challenges and common sense required to travel abroard alone at 18.

    Many, yet again, are still hopeless at age 30!

    In the backpacker demographic, we meet and accommodate all types. It`s all a part of life`s rich pageant……..

  15. Tom Griffiths,
    19 Aug 11
    8:35 pm
  16. @ Greg

    The majority of people who use the US J1 Visa from the UK are from non wealthy backgrounds. So no middle class statement.

    J1 visas are work visas, not holiday visas, so there is no requirement to have £x,000 in your bank account to secure the return flight home. The UK J1 packages put around these visas often also include flights etc. as there is enough money in the pot from the employers to do so.

    When set up as a Recruitment visa it’s all dependent on having a job, which means a guaranteed wage coming into either the agency (which then pays the worker) or direct into the worker.

    @ John

    The advantage of a *work* visa is that if you cease to work then the visa expires and you have to leave the country. The *disadvantage* of a WHV is that working is irrelevant. Often the US J1′s give you a free period to travel after your job finishes, after which you have to leave. The same could be applied to Australia. After you finish your work you get X weeks / months of travel. This would be the bit where they would enter the backpacking sector and spend their dollars before they go home.


    Peter’s point at the top is the key one here:

    ‘If they’re unemployable in the UK then they’re unemployable here’.

    Sadly the unemployable wasters who embarrass us Brits pick up the WHV in the UK purely to get to Australia so they can stay as long as they can. They party hard and leave once the money runs out. Their have no interest in working or travelling. When they get home they save up cash and then head to Ibiza to do the same. And at weekends you’ll see them fighting and puking into bins in every high street in the UK. It’s sad, and we’re embarrassed to send you these people.

    If the only ‘work’ visa they can get is a J1-type visa where they have to apply and then have a job interview first to get one, most of these ‘unemployable’ people wouldn’t get one.

    The important point is that this visa comes with a guaranteed (and at the moment compared to the UK, ‘well paid’) job, so it would attract people happy to work hard in return for a new positive experience. And there are thousands of these people around in the UK right now. Good, decent people who would jump at the chance to come and work in Australia and then do some travelling. Sure, they will still party and have fun – everyone does that when they’re young – but their main focus is the job and then the travel afterwards.

    As I’ve said before, the US J1 is simply a model to look at that works. Adapting exisiting products might work and I’m sure organisations like BUNAC and CCUSA would happily advise and could easily be the vehicle for this in the UK to get it underway, whatever ‘it’ turns out to be.

    I’d happily recommend Callum Kennedy from BUNAC to give advice. He’s based in the UK. Callum has been around for donkey’s years and is very well thought of by many, including myself. His views would certainly be worth hearing.

    Linking good UK workers to jobs in the UK in volume, in my opinion, will only happen if a quality interview-based work visa with heavy restrictions around it is introduced. It will weed out the cr@p and re-introduce a quality flow of hard working Brits keen to Live, work and travel in Australia.

    As Australia becomes more and more expensive to party, the louts will start to dry up as they head elsewhere and spread the goodwill under our puke-stained flag. As this happens they should be replaced by these better Work Travellers. The guys we all like. My concern is that we’ll still be left with jobs accessed through expensive and inefficent ‘travel’ channels as opposed to efficient recruitment channels and so the whole lot will gradually dry up.

    I believe you should aim for ‘Workers who travel’ and not ‘Travellers who might occasionally work’.

    I’ll let Greg C come up with his usual daft response.


  17. scotty
    20 Aug 11
    12:42 am
  18. Well explained, Tom.

    You know, maybe this forum does catch the right people in high places attention….. Today, Qld Premier Anna Bligh announced she had initiated changes to working holiday arrangements to allow foreign students 3 years work and also extended the types of work they were allowed to partake of and still qualify.

    An Aussie version of the J1, as Tom explained, would also assist in filling future employment gaps, Anna, hey?

  19. Joanna
    24 Aug 11
    11:52 am
  20. When I saw the headline I latched on to this right away – then I have read all the comments above and you are not singing from the same hymnbook at all. What we need is young people who want to work in Australia and what the UK needs is jobs for the 250,000+. I don’t think we have enough, even if you believe the numbers churned out by people who use Matt Majors white labeling – but we can certainly help.

    Tourism Australia held the UK travel agents Corroboree in Darwin at the beginning of June and we told all the British agents what we, Visitoz, planned to do – and that we were asking TA and TQ for some positive activity. The information from TA was that they were going to spend 3.51million pounds on marketing to ABC 1 age group 50 – 69 (for 25% of the market) and 390 thousand pounds to the 18 – 30 market – which is 21% (This does not include the figures for students). The answer I got when I queried this disparity was ‘we use viral marketing for youth’.

    As a parent in the past and now grandparent of an A level student I am only too aware of the pressures they face and, since leaving school, partying not a job has been the priority. (I can remember taking jobs every school holiday since I was 15 – many of them away from home. How things have changed!)

    To return to our marketing – in my opinion TA is doing it all wrong – we should be spending 3.51m on attracting young British University hopefuls to Australia by telling the people who matter, the parents, how it should be done? I have been banging on about this over here for some time and I really don’t seem to be making much headway with the people who have advertising dollars to spend. It ought to be spent on pages of editorial and advertorial in the ‘good’ papers – also go to the Educational Supplements and the Travel pages too. A little bit of sun, sea, sand a surf is a fine reward to six months spent milking cows in a Queensland dairy three times a day – or helping erect sheds in the rural areas who had them wiped out by the floods – plenty of work in all the other States and Territories too. What young people should be looking for is a bit of self-financing adventure as well.

    Peter, Scotty, – the young people we are talking about here as those who have continued their education up to the age of 18+, those who are potential high flyers, future top businessmen and women and so on. We are not talking about the riff raff who text each other to go looting because they are probably, in most cases, those who have been unemployed since they left school at 16. The University hopefuls are probably (I have no stats for this) 75 – 80% in the ABC1 range that Tourism Australia loves to market to.

    It has been my ‘cry’ for the past 20 years since we have been living in Australia that if we market to the youth and give them a great time, they will come back with friends, on holidays, for honeymoons, with children, on business and later on in the magical 50 -69 year old age group. In a few years time the first working holiday makers will be up to this age anyway and will know all about the lure without expensive advertising.

    What has Visitoz been doing other than ‘banging on’ about this to everyone who would listen? In the last two weeks we have prepared press releases and sent stories to just about every local newspaper in the UK,(more than 750 of them), with a suitable outback or animal picture, mentioning that we have work for as many people as would care to contact us. Even if only 1% of those who do not get a University place come to us for training and work – we will have solved, short term anyway, the problem of no workers in the Outback.

    I have also started, with some misgivings, some online advertising with – their ‘moderating’ is not as accurate as I would like it to be and the slow speed of getting anything on to their site did not fill me with confidence. They also didn’t like our claim of being the only organisation in Australia that guarantees work – we do and have never failed in over 19 years – another proud boast. We have written to both TA and TQ and asked them if they were doing any advertorials, joint marketing or editorials in the worthwhile papers, then we would be happy to join in. Quite by chance I found the youth advertising being done by TA with the one minute ‘interviews’ that have been on the Facebook site this month. This was a terrific idea – but they failed to ask a work provider or someone in the outback! When I contacted the young man organising it he was happy to combine both into one and Dan Porter, from Winchester, is there under Goomeri. He will be the ‘hero’ on the 29th of August – I hope they make a good splash for that – because that will show some rural work better than anything. Please go to the TA Facebook and ‘like’ it.

    Why not use this material – asking TA first of course – in some sort of splash next week? This would solve a lot of problems in one. TA has the clout to get stuff into newspapers that matter – where as we, as a relatively small business, find it very difficult to attract their attention.

    Most of you have touched on money – maybe people don’t have so much, but I think most people are spending it on other things rather than education. Having to put down $4000 – $5000 Aussie dollars in order to get the visa is absolutely excellent because otherwise we get the hoon who has a great plan and arrives in Sydney with a week’s drinking money and not much else. People can spend up to $900 with some of these start up packages but they do not guarantee work. OK we charge $2090, and with the air fare insurance and visa means they need to save $5000 to be comfortable. However, for this they get meet and greet, jet lag recovery by the beach for 3 days, all the paperwork done, 5 days introductory farm and outback training and the choice of jobs – guaranteed – to go to on their 9th day in Australia and for the rest of the year if they need it. Three months later, maximum, they can pay their parents, credit card or bank back and they are not only on the road to a working life but they have learned the value of looking after themselves, holidaying when they want to and will be much more suitable candidates for university in one or two years time – and they might even have saved some money too!

    The grandson – straight As and probably to Exeter. Big sigh of relief.

  21. scotty
    24 Aug 11
    7:50 pm
  22. Joanna, I don`t believe I limited my comments to young `uns alone, nor did I neglect to mention jobs out West in the outback.

    I will re-iterate: We would be mad to NOT try for something similar to the J1, though.

    At the moment, we need to acknowledge the fact that Oz pays the highest labour wages in the world, at a time when unemployment O/S in key markets is at an all time high.

    Couple this with the admitted fact there is a skills shortage and that those heading to the mines leave further job vacancies and you can see that your business would have to expand by a factor of 20 to accommodate the potential numbers that SHOULD and COULD be heading our way.

    Regardless of how long they can afford to come here for, there is no doubt the cost that you believe weeds out the no-hopers also deters a hell of a lot of kids who would be prepared to have a crack here in Oz. We need all we can get.

    I have met many kids who have been through your program and I know it is tried and true, Joanna, but we need to offer access to all we can, regardless of perceived work ethic/funds.

  23. scotty
    24 Aug 11
    8:20 pm
  24. BTW, Joanna, I like your ideas for advertising and promoting, by reaching the parents. Once again, TA doesn`t invest in repeat tourism by adequately funding the Youth Market but no surprise there, hey?!

  25. Greg Cole
    30 Aug 11
    8:36 pm
  26. I was going to post a daft response Tom, until I read yours and saw you had it covered. We simply don’t have the resources to apply a massive interview-based visa or work system whatever you call it. This affiliation that people – people who should know better – have that Australia has a bottomless pit of cash to throw at systems and visas and processing, etc, etc – is simply nonsense. The 417 works because its low-cost and simple. Take it further and watch the cost go up and up and up. Doesn’t make the BUNACS and and WTC’s of the world so attractive then does it.

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