Jim Taggart

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Generation Y’s Job Plight: Top 12 Tips for Gen Y

It’s amazing how fast things can change in the economy. Not long ago, writers, trainers and speakers on Generation Y couldn’t stress hard enough to Baby Boomers how they were were going to have to adapt to the different values and work preferences of young people. Plenty of “experts” wrote and spoke on how organizations would have to change, from being hierarchical and control-oriented to being more lateral and power-sharing. Well, that’s a work in progress.

Then something happened: The financial crisis of 2008 and the ensuing Great Recession of 2008-09. All bets were off for Gen Y.

BusinessWeek wrote in October 2009 about The Lost Generation. This was an emerging issue for the media; yet while subsequent reports have been produced by various media and experts on labor market Generation Y continues to struggle to gain solid footholds in the economy. This cohort now spans between 20 and 36 years of age.

As the old adage goes: “Last in, first out the door.” Gen Y has become very familiar with this practice, unfortunately. And while some out there may say that life’s not fair and to suck it up, it’s actually a myopic view. Here’s why:

It was Baby Boomers (51-71) and the Silent Generation (72-86) that were responsible for the financial liquidity crisis. They make up the power players in industry and government. Generation X is steadily working its way into senior leadership positions as Boomers retire in increasing numbers.

Irresponsible lending practices were ignored by supposedly highly educated and informed people in positions of influence.

Baby Boomers have fuelled insane consumer spending for years, getting themselves overextended to the point of financial collapse—serving as poor role models for younger people.

When the financial crisis struck, companies retrenched and began throwing overboard whatever they could find. Gen Y was a popular target.

In 2016 and continuing into 2017, concern has been expressed in the U.S. that Gen Y is having difficulty finding homes to buy on top of stricter lending requirements, while in Canada the modus operandi seems to be to further extend one’s personal indebtedness.

In addition to the plight facing Gen Y, another crisis is looming in the distance that will have a strong impact in the coming years: the collapse of pension plans in North America. A few years ago Toronto’s Globe and Mail ran a week-long series on Canada’s pension emerging crisis.

Some key highlights were:
— 84% of public service workers have pensions.
— 78% of these plans are defined benefit pensions
— 25% of private sector workers have a pension plan
— 16% of these plans are gold plated defined benefit pensions
— 11 million workers, or 60 per cent, of Canada’s workers have no pension at all
— 8 million or 45 per cent, have no pensions or registered retirement savings plans (RRSPs)

Since this series was written, the pension issue in Canada has continued to squeeze workers.

Here are two main concerns:

a) As Boomers face the financial wrecking ball of over-indebtedness in their senior years and failing pension plans their retirement plans are going out the window. Coupled with this is changing technology that is putting many of younger Boomers’ (in their fifties) occupational skills out of date. How is aggregate demand to be sustained if spend-crazy Boomers stop spending?

b) Gen Y (and Gen X) will be expected to step up to the plate to help pay for government pension plans as Boomers zoom around in their walkers. The prevailing attitude of Boomers and the Silent Generation is this: Whether you guys ever get a pension is not our concern.

The picture is indeed ugly – and will get a lot uglier in the coming years. Here’s one factoid: The C.D. Howe Institute, a Toronto-based think tank, forecast that the “demographic bill” that will hit the federal and provincial governments over the next 50 years will amount to $1.5 trillion. Health, education and child benefit payments now make up 15% of GDP, but are expected to account for 19% of GDP by 2056. The US situation will be similar, expect that the absolute dollar amounts will be much, much bigger.

I worked for 30 plus years, most of that time as an economist and leadership practitioner. I know how labor markets function and in fact spent my earlier years in that field. I want to share some personal anecdotes that may help my readers get a better understanding of past events that have hit youth, but what I want to provide is a list of tips that can help position you for the future: Top 12 Tips for Gen Y.

This is not the first time that young people have been creamed by a recession. Baby Boomers remember the 1981-82 recession which hammered the economy and jobs, coming on top of mortgage rates that were in the high teens.

Fast forward to today’s reality. Tuition rates are absurdly high, in comparison to wages earned by students. New college graduates face staggering student loan debt levels with punishing interest rates. Baby Boomers have set up Gen Y as patsies for a huge fall.

“Go to university…forget community college; that’s for dummies.” Almost 45 years ago that was the refrain in high school, and it’s still being sung for the most part. Yes, community college programs have grown in respect in North America over recent years, but they still don’t command the respect they deserve. In particular, building trades and others trades such as machinists, electricians, and tool and die makers get overlooked.

A few years ago I learned something valuable when I had a hardwood floor installed in my home. I was fortunate to find an excellent installer, who I would call a master craftsman. His name was Slava and he was from Ukrania. Although he’d lived in Ottawa, Canada, for over six years his English was quite rudimentary. But over the two days he was in the house doing his work we spend a lot of time talking. I learned that he had been a professional boxer in Ukrania when he was a young man, ranked number one, and also boxed in the former Soviet Red Army.

On one occasion Slava asked me what type of work I did. I don’t think he was too impressed with my reply. But he then said something I’ll never forget: “Jim, a man has to have two professions. You have to be able to fall back on one if something happens.”

In addition to having installed hardwood for 16 years, Slava had also been a shoemaker in Ukraine – not just repairing shoes but making them from scratch. We then talked about the problems that Canadian youth were having finding work. To Slava, he couldn’t understand why more young people were not going into the trades. From his point of view trades are an honorable profession. I’m sure he thought that my profession, which involves sitting in a chair all day long looking at a computer screen, was bizarre.

So Gen Y, you’re living in a crappy job market. But the sun always rises, and so too will your fortunes. But to give you some inspiration and help I’ve prepared the following:
12 Tips for Gen Y:

1) Realize that this economic mess is not your fault…but don’t get a chip on your shoulder over it either.

2) Own your morale and attitude on how you perceive the world.

3) Never stop learning. When you think you’ve had enough, find another area in which to learn something new. Read a book – don’t just web surf.

4) Follow Slava’s rule: have two trades or professions

5) Working after high school or taking time off to work or travel during college may be a good idea, but it’s a personal decision. Only you can make the final decision once you’ve checked things out, including receiving constructive advice from family and friends. Oh, and tell your parents to chill out if they start to panic.

6) Make this time off a growth experience. Don’t rot at home or hang out with friends who are going nowhere.

7) Lower your material expectations (remember we Boomers will need you to help pay for our pension plans).

8) Post-secondary education is always a good thing (usually), but take the time to assess your interests and passions against what college programs offer.

9) Remember that there will always be ‘unknowns’ of which you’re unaware. Never be a know-it-all. Be humble and curious.

10) Be open to outcome, not attached to it.

11) Create your future by seizing opportunities and then allowing Mr. Luck in.

12) Sacrifice. It’s the ONLY way to initiate personal change and to systematically make a long-term improvement in your economic wellbeing.

Good luck in your journey!

When Nike says, just do it, that’s a message of empowerment. Why aren’t the rest of us speaking to young people in a voice of inspiration?
— Naomi Klein (Canadian author and activist)


Click here to download a complimentary copy of Jim’s e-book Becoming a Holistic Leader, 3rd Edition.

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