University degree no longer the promised one-way ticket to a career
BY KATHRYN BLAZE CARLSON,
Sarah Sayed dreads small talk, particularly the line of questioning that includes, “What do you do for a living?”
Despite her two university degrees and a feverish months-long job search, the 25-year-old graduate does not yet do anything for a living. Instead, she works odd jobs and lives at home with her baffled parents.
It was not supposed to be this way. The chemical engineering graduate, who has a second degree in bio-chemistry, was supposed to graduate from the University of Ottawa and begin a fulfilling career straight out of the academic gate – or so she hoped, expected, even.
But her first professional job search has instead marked the first major false start of her adult life, delivering a painful reality check and a severe blow to her self-esteem.
For Sayed, a guilty sense of comfort lies only in the fact that hundreds of thousands of people around her age dread small talk, too: youth unemployment in Canada is twice the national rate, these days hovering around a woeful 14%.
The situation has been so bleak for so long that some observers call Sayed’s cohort the “lost generation.” Others call her and her ilk NINJAS, meaning “No Income, No Job, and No Assets.”
Some analysts are ready to concede that the Sarah Sayeds of this country are heralding a cultural shift: graduates and their parents should no longer expect a seamless school-to-work transition because a university degree is no longer the promised one-way ticket to a career.
The on-ramp to adulthood is longer and twistier. Thirty is the new 25.
Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, a psychology professor at Massachusetts’ Clark University, makes the unconventional suggestion that this psychic change could actually be good for society.
“We need to stop expecting [graduates] to follow the path that people followed 50 years ago,” said Arnett, who is leading the movement to classify the 20s as a distinct life stage, which he dubs “emerging adulthood.”
“We should all just relax and realize that life is long. People can expect to live until they’re 80 years old, so there’s no hurry.”
Perhaps smartly, then, many of Sayed’s colleagues have traded their fruitless job hunt for more schooling. “We think we’re still young, so why not continue studying until something good comes along?” she explained.
To many baby boomers, though, that logic sounds just indulgent. And expensive.
It is emblematic, they say, of today’s culture of entitlement, proving that generation Y wants to skip the whole “working for The Man thing” and leap straight into a meaningful, lucrative career.
There is even a book that caters to the latter bunch called Grindhopping: Build a Rewarding Career Without Paying Your Dues.
“The funniest thing is that if generation Y is entitled, it’s because their parents raised them to be that way,” said Lauren Friese, a 27-year-old London School of Economics graduate and entrepreneur who three years ago launched TalentEgg, Canada’s leading online resource for university graduates making the career transition.
“Their baby boomer parents were telling them that they could do anything, that it’s OK that they didn’t do well in class and ‘You struck out in your baseball game but, hey, nice swing.’
“When those same generation Yers come into their workplace, baby boomers are the ones wondering why [the recent graduates] arrive on Monday as an intern and expect to be given the responsibilities of a CEO by Friday.”
Jean Twenge, author of Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled – and More Miserable than Ever Before, echoed that today’s youth expect more than the workplace will typically offer. She said the most significant consequence is widespread disappointment.
“A lot of [young graduates] feel like they were sold a bill of goods – that they were told if they go to university and get a degree, that they’ll get a job,” said Twenge, who teaches psychology at San Diego State University and heads Igen Consulting to help companies navigate generational differences.
“Young people feel like nobody ever told them how hard it was going to be, and I think they have a point.”
To Arnett, people in Sayed’s position are not stuck, they’re free. Free to ditch the job search and pursue their passions. Free to forgo the confidence-depleting rejection emails for a year of travels, much like Arnett’s niece, who quit her stable job to live in a hut in Ecuador.
© Postmedia News. Article appears on www.working.com.
From Next May 15/12