The Youth Workforce Is Wasted On The Young?
I’m prepared to hold myself up as something of an expert on the youth workforce. When I was young, I used to actually work, as opposed to whatever pen-pushing it is I do now. Plus, as a parent, I have personally produced two members of the youth workforce. So, if that doesn’t make me an expert I don’t know what does. I’m also reasonably adept at sarcasm. I wouldn’t describe myself as a sarcasm expert; I’m more of a sarcasm enthusiast.
There’s an image of a particular newspaper clipping doing the rounds on FaceBook at the moment. (By which I mean, I shared it this morning). It has subheadings: Maths in the 1950s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. Each asks a maths exam question with descending level of difficulty. The 1950s question asks about a forester cutting and selling trees for $100 and the costs being 4/5 so what is the profit? The 2000s question ends up asking how you think the trees feel and advising that counselling is available after the exam.
I believe this is what young people refer to as a ‘slam’. I’m pretty guilty of this inter-generational faux mocking and banter. I’m reasonably confident I don’t intentionally mock people based on race, gender, physical ability, body shape, sexuality, etc but I apparently have no qualms about slamming my kids and their chronological cohorts. This reflects poorly on me and it’s lazy.
I’ve been in the training game for closer to three decades than two. A good proportion of the people I meet are at the earlier ends of their careers. ‘Experts’ can blather on about millennial this and boomer that but my observation over the generations is that people are people and people are different. Yes my kids use their phones more than I did and faxes less. Yes, they’ll have a harder time affording a house than me. This isn’t about people as much as it is about technology, systems and politics. No doubt a statistician could show that employees under 30 change jobs more frequently or something like that. If you divide any group up by age, you might find that under 30s are taller on average than those aged 30-40. Correlation isn’t particularly helpful for employers assessing applicants or planning workforce strategy.
George Bernard Shaw or Oscar Wilde or some other old guy wrote, “Youth is wasted on the young”. Anyone with any degree of objectivity should see that as less a deserved slam on youth than a revelation of regret and bitterness. When I re-post jokey memes hassling young people’s maths, rest assured I’m limping to my keyboard on a stuffed Achilles tendon that’s never going to get much better.
Each generation has its advantages and disadvantages. We’re not having to deal with a world war or its aftermath. That generation didn’t have to deal with an obesity epidemic. My kids have all these robots taking their jobs to worry about. Swings and roundabouts.
If you’re looking at people coming into your workplace, regardless of age, you’re going to need people with learning flexibility. If there’s one thing this particular wave of the youth workforce is going to need to be aware of and ready for, it’s change. Having that one skill that’ll see you through to retirement has gone the way of blacksmiths, stagecoach drivers and perms. (Yes you can still find all three but they’re no longer mainstream). It’s not the frequency of job changes that experts should be measuring and addressing, it’s the frequency of skill obsolescence and acquisition. Good workplace are probably already onto this and looking to hire learning flexible people. Excellent workplaces are the ones not only hiring it but nurturing and supporting it beyond mere lip service.
I’ve resolved to make fewer snide remarks about jobs like Instagram Stylist and focus on spotting and celebrating the young people I meet in my training events who are potential gems. Maybe it’s good marketing or the exposure of social media but doesn’t it seem like New Zealand has a lot of super talented and successful young people right now generally? Steven Adams, Lydia Ko, Lorde are smashing it on the world stage. They were ‘spotted’ at an early age and nurtured and supported.
Referring back to that meme earlier in this article about the declining challenge level in maths exam questions, I want to make it absolutely clear that this was in no way meant as a slight towards teachers. Teachers are great and I would like to draw everyone’s attention to the upcoming celebrations and recognition of World Teachers’ Day. I hope you’ll all join me in appreciating them on that day – especially as it is only a half day.