The University of Newcastle, Australia

New podcast episode highlights young hospitality workers career crises

Thursday, 7 May 2020

With COVID-19 restrictions forcing many in the hospitality industry out of work, Dr David Farrugia warns that now could be a time of crisis for young people whose identities are closely entangled with their work.

David Farrugia

A sociologist whose work examines how youth identities are created through the dynamics of work in contemporary societies, Dr Farrugia says that his research has revealed that work for young people has come to occupy centre stage.

“Young people now are being encouraged to see work as arena where they can self actualise and so they are increasingly invested in work in an all-encompassing way,” he said.

Dr Farrugia discusses this topic in the latest episode from the School of Humanities and Social Science podcast, Our Human Experience.

“Now during the COVID-19 pandemic, when we are seeing so many young people out of work, this entangling of personal and work identities is likely to have a negative impact on the way that young people see themselves. Because their identities are so wrapped up in what they do, if they lose their employment that can have a very detrimental effect on their sense of self,” he said.

Dr Farrugia leads a research project titled ‘Young Hospitality Workers and Value Creation in the Service Economy’ which reveals that youth identities are critical sources of value in the hospitality industry and not necessarily because of their work skills, but more due to their youthful attributes.

“Hospitality is the industry where the entanglement of young people’s identities is most clearly seen. Young workers are seen as valuable because of their identities: their ability to look ‘cool’ in a ‘cool’ venue, their ability to interact with consumers in a fun way.  So in this case, their identities ‘outside’ of work are actually drawn in to the value they create for employers at their jobs,” Farrugia observed.

Dr Farrugia says in this interactive service work the identity of the server is critical to the value of the labour.

“The real product of interactive service work is the interaction, not the product. Bars will hire people on the basis of ability to produce a certain vibe. Their job is to interact in a way that maintains the vibe of the bar. The conclusion is that who a worker is in the rest of their lives matters in the value they offer the bar.”

Dr Farrugia points to the fact that the skills hospitality workers bring to the workplace aren’t well recognised.

“We currently have all these debates about wages, penalty rates and working conditions, but there is a huge mis-match between the value young people produce and the way the value is discussed in debate about their wage and working conditions,” he said.

“if we are going to have a public conversation about wages we need to understand that this is not just unskilled work. It’s labour that produces enormous amount of value to urban night economies.”

For further information on this topic listen to the School of Humanities and Social Science podcast Our Human Experience, now available on Anchor FM and Spotify.

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