The Underwhelmed Generation


“We hold in our hands pieces of paper…”

Dave Osler thinks that Universities should be “funded entirely from general taxation“. Look man, if a course was free, accessible and – let’s say – seven hours a week then any teen would gleefully enroll. It doesn’t take more than a pinch of rational self-interest to see that it would be cheaper and easier than the other options. Most attendees would gain little, leave, become taxpayers and be sorely out of pocket.

Frankly, there’s no need for 45% of young people to go to University. Some don’t have the aptitude; others the enthusiasm. Trust me, I’ve just dropped out and the number of students who were yawning their way through six weekly hours of arts degree was shameful. It’s a waste of their and other people’s time and money and, as David Hepworth notes, will only serve to lumber them with knowledge that can’t be fulfilled. (Oh, and massive debts, naturally.) What are millions of drama, writing, journalism and arts students going to do with the knowledge they acquire? (Having fun is no bad reason but, I think, should be paid by oneself.) It’ll just lead to swathes of underwhelmed retail assistants and, perhaps, a disconcerting rise in wasted street performers.

It’s not that I’d deny people the chance of attending, it’s that I think that University has been wrongly promoted as the best of all affairs. Vocational courses are undervalued. Officials urge on school leavers. Employers use degrees as a bottom line of competence; like bouncers rejecting folk who justly didn’t see the point in wasting money on a tie. One doesn’t need these courses and qualifications to be skilled, curious or inspired. In fact, they can all leave one dim, debt-saddled and disillusioned. This generation is a speculative bubble.

You’ve got to loathe these internships: all the drudgery of jobs without remuneration. What? Don’t like it? Well, there’s plenty more who’d offer up their souls…

Powerful Media – “a cutting edge media consultancy firm based in Canary Wharf”, which produces The Power List: Britain’s 100 Most Influential Black People – has publicly announced that it is seeking an internet-savvy graduate (with knowledge of InDesign) to work 10.30am – 6pm, three days a week for no salary at all. There is no mention of paying expenses and applicants must “commit to at least 11 months in the role.”

Weirdly, Powerful Media’s ad even boasts about how much proper work the intern will be doing – for their non-existent pay packet – explaining, “This is not a paid position, but it is also not a ‘making the tea’ type role. Instead you will undertake a variety of research, editorial and PR-related tasks.”

The irony is that some folk would kill to get a place like this. If your family has no savings there’s no way you could support yourself without income. Only the rich could deal with it.

Laurie Penny wrote on this a while ago…

Today, any graduate or school-leaver without the means to support themselves in London while working for free can forget about a career in journalism, politics, the arts, finance, the legal profession or any of a number of other sectors whose business models are now based around a lower tier of unpaid labour.

With 70 applicants for every new vacancy, with almost a million young people unemployed and with millions more languishing in insecure, temporary and poorly paid work, the job market is now open only to those who can afford to buy their way in.

Perhaps I sounded like a spiteful shit, jeering at people who expect fulfilling jobs and a bounteous wage. I wasn’t not ragging on them, though. Hell, the system needs entrants that are prepared to cope with slings, arrows and slavish bloody wages, driven on by hopes of future glories that only the few, the fortunate and – it would seem – the filthy rich will ever know. I’m not disclaiming jobs per se – at least until we have devised a ludic revolution – but I will a vile “careers ladder” that’s designed for us to clamber up, polish a few windows and be dismounted as it’s yanked away.

A degree is not enough. These days, students have to do much more than study in order to make themselves employable once they graduate. They are forced into a balancing act as they juggle their time between their degree, extracurricular activities and that golden nugget of CV enhancement: work experience or internship.

From the moment they begin their degree, students now must look for the best ways to make themselves marketable. Leaving it late (I started building my CV in the second year) has made me realise just how much this put me at a disadvantage.

- Carl Andrew, The Student’s Quest For An Ideal CV

The marines don’t pay much. Their job is hard and dangerous. Yet they are able to build fourty thousand new Marines every year with a washout rate that is so low it can hardly be measured. Learn a lesson from the most effective employer of eighteen to twenty-two year olds in the Western world. When you are thinking about shaping your orientation process for Gen Yers, think about how you can emulate the boot camp approach…

- Bruce Tulgan, Not Everyone Gets a Trophy: How to Manage Generation Y

People who are regimented all their lives, handed to work from school and bracketed by the family in the beginning and the nursing home in the end, are habituated to hierarchy and psychologically enslaved.

- Bob Black, The Abolition Of Work

Consider the greetings the U.S. Marine Corps offer to brand new Gen Y recruits. The marines have a well-known onboarding program called boot camp. For thirteen solid weeks they provide an all-encompassing 24/7 experience in which they take an ordinary human being and transform that person into a Marine – a person with a unique set of values and a unique set of skills, a person so connected to the Marine Corps and its mission and every other Marine that this person is now ready to walk into the line of fire, literally, and win battles. Now that’s what I call a greeting.

The marines don’t pay much. Their job is hard and dangerous. Yet they are able to build fourty thousand new Marines every year with a washout rate that is so low it can hardly be measured. Learn a lesson from the most effective employer of eighteen to twenty-two year olds in the Western world. When you are thinking about shaping your orientation process for Gen Yers, think about how you can emulate the boot camp approach…

- Bruce Tulgan, Not Everyone Gets a Trophy: How to Manage Generation Y

People don’t just work, they have “jobs.” One person does one productive task all the time on an or-else basis. Even if the task has a quantum of intrinsic interest (as increasingly many jobs don’t) the monotony of its obligatory exclusivity drains its ludic potential. A “job” that might engage the energies of some people, for a reasonably limited time, for the fun of it, is just a burden on those who have to do it for forty hours a week with no say in how it should be done, for the profit of owners who contribute nothing to the project, and with no opportunity for sharing tasks or spreading the work among those who actually have to do it.

You are what you do. If you do boring, stupid, monotonous work, chances are you’ll end up boring, stupid, and monotonous. Work is a much better explanation for the creeping cretinization all around us than even such significant moronizing mechanisms as television and education.

- Bob Black, The Abolition of Work (thanks, MacCruiskeen)

When we’re young we want to be old; when we’re old we want to be young. Time to let the young ‘uns know that they’re wrong, wrong, wrong

With the number of students soaring annually, competition for jobs is intensifying. More than twice as many graduates now chase every available job compared with the early 1980s, and the prognosis is that it’ll get worse.

Even when graduates find work, many are forced to settle for low-paid jobs, prompting one in six to admit they would have reconsidered going to university if they had known how difficult life would be once they graduated, a recent graduate recruitment study revealed. A separate report by the Institute for Employment Studies, which interviewed more than 3,500 arts graduates, found even those in work had to hold down different jobs at the same time, as there were no full-time roles, and even then nearly half of all those in so-called “portfolio careers” earned under £15,000.

Aaron Porter, president of the National Union of Students, warned that the current crop of students risked becoming a “lost generation”. He added: “The graduate experience is certainly the toughest it’s ever been. And it’s not just a few difficult years ahead; it looks like a difficult life for this generation. They are integral to our country’s recovery and if we’re not careful, they could be lost. It would be easy for some of our greatest young talent to end up on the scrapheap.”

“When I gwow up,” trilled the child to ruefully indulgent parents, “I is gunna be employed!” Dream, kids, dream. It strikes me that as work becomes harder and rarer people’s sense of being – that is, their self-concept and schema for the world and their own place within it – will be disconnected from their gruelling, transient professions. This must be: even the most venemous misanthrope knows there’s more to humans than can be wedged down into careers.

Chelle Johnson has an article up at CiF, which implores the world to “take [her] generation seriously“. Unlike many of her commenters – who seem crustier than a sourdough rye – I’m of that generation; so, should I be taken seriously?

For Millennials, life is not relegated to evenings and weekends. We have been instilled with the determination to find jobs we enjoy – and why not? Many criticise my generation for having high aspirations, as if rising to the top in a sector that we hate is a preferable alternative to landing a job we are passionate about…

Well, I could be wrong but I suspect that there are too few jobs worth getting “passionate” about. Many thousands of young people have been nourishing grand fancies: of performance, creativity, sport and, yes, fame. The careers market – thick with blank production; dense bureaucracy; menial labour and, I’m afraid, retail assistants – just can’t match that. A problem with “Millenials”? No, Goddamnit, it’s a problem with existence.

Don’t misunderstand me, this is no excuse for the cold, surreal regimes of overwork, auditing and “performance improvement plans“, which seem to offer evidence that capitalists took notes from Stalin. Yet, there is a limit to which employers could tart up jobs, even if they desired to. For this naive, not-all-that-political dropout, we shouldn’t expect careers to satisfy our consciousnesses. Nor, however, should we see our minds as pegs, to be forced inside the holes of our work. I’m not advocating beery, livin’-for-the-weekend spirit draining, but if you’re hoping to grow as a person your job’s a damn restrictive space. The airy, whimsical sloths were right! Don’t invest your self in digging, on the chance of striking oil: track across the world’s expanses; rummage in history’s loft; stagger through the murky lands of people, their ideas and their endeavours. Inspiration’s inefficient: keen-eyed bosses may not tolerate it.

Over the pond, the Millenials are trapped in a generational rut…

The poll found that large numbers of the massive Millennial Generation are struggling through the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression. Just one-sixth of the Millennials surveyed say they are earning enough to live comfortably. Nearly 60 percent of them are weighed down by student loans or other debts. A significant number — whether living on their own or not — report that they still rely on financial help from their parents. And about one-fourth of older Millennials, those ages 25 to 29, said they are still or once again living with their parents — often after losing jobs they thought pointed them toward independence.

Yet, they’re pretty optimistic(pdf)! Huge swathes look forward to economic improvement, higher standards of living and the “opportunit[ies]” they feel await them. Thus, millions rack up debts, ward off bills and wrench the stuffing from their withered cash cushions.

The same’s been true in Australia

It showed the number of generation Y customers on unemployment benefits in the year to December jumped about 14 per cent, almost double the next biggest group, the 35-44-year-olds.

Their wages rose by just 2.5 per cent overall compared with the increases of between 4.9 per cent and 8.1 per cent for people aged from 25 to 64.

Gen Y did not buy into the fears the world economy or Australia’s was going to go bust and maintained spending habits as other age groups saved.

All this suggests that the recent trend for blaming “selfish” Boomers and expecting a wave of militant Millenials is severely misguided: young adults remain hopeful, and seem, if anything, to have replicated the habits of their parents. Here’s a truly pungent example…

An independent study commissioned by IBM (NYSE:IBM) has revealed that whilst Generation Y (aged 18-24 years) is apparently the most informed age group when it comes to environmental issues; it is the worst group of offenders for energy awareness and water wastage. Overall, the study found Great Britain’s consumers spend £1.9 billion a year on unnecessary water and sewage charge…

Anyway, I’ll wrap all this doom-mongering into an earnest, forward-looking essay. Peace out, homecreatures.

A couple of days ago, I suggested that, far from being angry with its painful future, much of “Generation Y” holds lofty expectations. This, it seems, is true in the States…

Their plight seems as much created by members’ pre-recession personal finance habits as by the misfortune of coming of age as the recession took hold in December 2007. On average, Gen Yers each have more than three credit cards, and 20 percent carry a balance of more than $10,000, according to Fidelity Investments.

The generation is graduating from college with an average of $23,200 in student debt, according to the most recent data from the Project on Student Debt. That’s a 24 percent increase from 2004.

“They have high, unrealistic expectations,” says Lee Jenkins, author of Lee Jenkins on Money and a managing partner of Atlanta Capital Group in Atlanta. “And many of them don’t manage money very well.”

They’re just too damn hopeful and self-assured!

Unemployment among Gen Y members is “badly setting back their careers,” says Paul Taylor, executive vice president of the Pew Research Center. “Yet, despite the problems they face, they tend to be upbeat — which is typical of young adults.”

A common trait within members of the generation is a belief that they have the skills and ability to make money and afford large purchases, even when it doesn’t appear that they do.

I’m beginning to suspect that this is the generational equivalent of a speculative bubble. Certainly, it’s difficult to see why confident, ambitious big-spenders wouldcollectively…decide and act“, let alone pursue acoherent radical framework“. Many have been raised to expect big things; they’re seizing their future as it slips from their palms.

The estimable Laurie Penny rails against the “Baby Boomers“, and their flaccid critics…

Rather than presenting young people with a coherent manifesto for our social and political inheritance, contemporary analysis tends to lapse into either helpless rage or blithe apologism. Members of Generation Y already know that this is a terrible time to be young. What we need is the tools to imagine a better world.

Do we know it’s a “terrible time“? David Hepworth’s noted that whole swathes of bright young things are being thrust into the world with lofty, and illusory, expectations…

We’re already starting to see the 80s trend in reverse. The people who have been trained for the glamour jobs are taking whatever there is, no matter how mundane. There’s nothing wrong with mundane, of course, unless you’ve been raised to expect something altogether different.

Not just more exciting but deliciously lucrative as well! In his introduction to Radical Future (via Laurie, who contributes) Ben Little tells us that “[students'] expectations of the market value of their degrees has been massively inflated“…

[W]hen I ask my first-year students where they expect to be five years after graduating, many think it realistic that they will own their house and car.

If these guys are correct, much of “Generation Y” are marching, starry-eyed, into a black hole. And, thus, who’s going to find a “coherent radical framework“? Where’s the reserve of enthusiam? I don’t have any answers, but, then, I’m not sure there are any. Sometimes, when you’re in the shit, there won’t be any steps nearby.

Earlier. And.

David Hepworth – of, among others, Smash Hits, Q and the NME - confirms my fears

This generation, who have been the victims of “education, education, education” and have grown up being told that they could be anything they wanted to be, are finding that this is anything but the case. Among the twenty somethings I meet there’s a palpable sense of betrayal. I wonder if we’re seeing the trend of the 80s reversed. During that decade people who’d been prepared for quite mundane jobs and professions found themselves hitching a ride on the economy into an altogether more glamorous milieu. Hardly any of the people I worked with in those days had trained to do the job they ended up doing but there were more jobs than there were good people to fill them. In response to this surge, billions of pounds were then pumped into training people to take their place in Britain’s allegedly booming creative economy. Now we find ourselves with all these people being unleashed into the market at the exact point that the creative economy has slammed on the brakes.

We’re already starting to see the 80s trend in reverse. The people who have been trained for the glamour jobs are taking whatever there is, no matter how mundane. There’s nothing wrong with mundane, of course, unless you’ve been raised to expect something altogether different.

David’s experience is with hopeful, incorrigibly “networking” young journalists. Then there are hordes of starry-eyed actors: performing creaky scripts on creakier stages, barely large enough to accomodate half the cast of Krapp’s Last Tape. Not sure where my competition – the most chimerical of all: the authors – might be hiding out. One often sees people in cafés, nursing their teas and regarding empty notebooks. They’re hoping, I suspect, to be reborn as JK Rowling.

I sound like a gnarled old cynical but, of course, I’m just the same. Oh, sure, I’m reasonable enough to know that I’ll never be a writer, but when confronted with a word as soul-devouring as “careers” I’ll still curl up in a dream.

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