COVID Lifestyle transforms aspirations of young Australians

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Nothing encapsulates the scale of the impact of COVID on the aspirations of Australian students as well as the surge in demand for information about careers for parking officers.

In the 18 months since COVID hit our shores in March 2020, there were 1217 searches seeking more information about how to serve in one of the most maligned roles in urban Australia – a 373% increase on the previous 18 months.

Analysis of demand for information from Australia’s leading source of independent career and course information, the Good Universities Guide, has revealed some tremendous changes in career aspiration across Australia. Analysis by Good Education Media, the publishers of the Guide, and higher education consultancy Twig Marketing has uncovered rich seams of data, with implications for university course demand and insights into shortcomings in the guidance Australians are getting to choose their careers.

Good Education Media sites attract about 5 million searches per year and this analysis, compiled in a new report called Australia’s COVID-changed Aspirations compares trends in searches from 18 months before COVID became a major issue in Australia (August 2018-February 2020) with trends in the subsequent 18 months (March 2020-August 2021).

After the pandemic hit Australia, and borders closed, demand for careers related to travel, such as Border Force Officer, Flight Attendant and Pilot all dropped dramatically – combining to an average 43% drop in searches for travel-related roles. This also extended to jobs sustained by travel and migration, such as interpreter jobs, which fell sharply.

Interestingly, despite the importance of technology in forging connection and facilitating rapid vaccine development, demand for information about IT fell significantly. Possibly as a result of too many students having to spend day after day studying, recreating and socialising solely online, there was a 93% drop in searches for UX (user experience) roles, a 56% reduction in searches for big data analyst positions, and substantial drops in technician roles.

The threat or reality of being locked down for so long also saw a slump in a range of office jobs, while students instead turned to a range of outdoor essential worker jobs seen to offer not just release from their room, but also certainty. Demand for information about outdoor essential jobs such as parking inspector, builder’s labourer and farm worker all rose significantly, while outdoor jobs not perceived to involve such secure essential worker status such as ranger or marine biologist stagnated or declined.

The sector which most benefited from this trend was the construction sector, with a 26% increase in demand for information about building jobs – with a strong growth in interest for most trades.

At the same time, the past 18 months has seen a huge growth in demand for roles relating to mental health, in particular psychology, which grew from 25,000 searches in the 18 months pre-pandemic to more than 40,000 searches in the 18 months since February 2020.

Heightened levels of uncertainty and the health threat of the pandemic also appear to have had a significant impact on the health sector aspirations of many, driving demand for frontline health roles at the expense of allied health roles – with a 108% increase in demand for information about surgical careers and a 65% increase in demand for registered nurse career information, while demand for the evergreen physiotherapy courses fell 15%, occupational therapy searches fell 13%, optometrist searches fell 25% and chiropractic searches fell 38%.

Uncertainty has also driven demand towards some traditional professions and jobs considered secure in any conditions – with strong growth in demand for law, engineering and defence. Policing careers with the Australian Federal Police also remained the most popular search across Australia throughout both periods.

The insights from these data sets are fascinating, but also disturbing. Tens of thousands of Australians are researching their future career options based on their immediate environment, despite the case that they often won’t graduate from courses training them for these roles for several years – when the world has changed. This is not the fault of students or their families, who are going through tough and exceptional times – but rather points to market failure in the way we counsel people towards jobs that will be key to the social, environmental and financial prosperity and sustainability of Australia in the coming decades.

Searches for prosthetic technician jobs were relatively common pre-pandemic, with 1,434 searches, but fell to just 70 in the past 18 months. With kids locked out of sporting teams, interest in sports science plummeted by 88% and climate change analyst searches fell 39%. In contrast, there was a 355% increase in searches relating to real estate sales. While you may not be able to create prosthetic limbs, create useful websites or bother to exercise in future, we can at least have confidence that every day another 31 people are thinking about becoming your next real estate agent.

Tim Winkler is Director of Australia’s leading higher education strategy and marketing consultancy, Twig Marketing. This analysis was conducted by Good Education Media, the publishers of the Good Universities Guide, and Twig Marketing.

For copies of the report Australia’s COVID-changed Aspirations or more information, please contact tim@twigmarketing.com or mike.hancox@goodeducation.com.au