To the young worker…

Posted by on April 12, 2012 in Jobs

I hate reading articles about young people entering the work-force. They are paint by numbers articles consisting of the following:

  1. Find some grumpy older supervisor to tell stories about how young workers are entitled, lazy and difficult to manage.
  2. Find a young worker to tell stories about how out of touch employers are to the needs of the younger employee.
  3. Find some “expert” conveniently branding themselves as “Generation Y employment consultants”- sigh, find an issue and someone has branded themselves a consultant to that issue – to give some generalized and canned MBA-speak advice (“create a workplace that fosters innovation and a free flow exchange of ideas”)
  4. Find some enlightened employer who is doing it right.

Guess what? Every young employee, regardless of generation, finds entering the work-force tough. This is not news. Using a wedge issue, such as generational tension, to create a story is not news either.

Fundamentally, one moves from one environment, the education system, which is structured to serve the student to another, the work-place, which is structured so that the student now employee serves the institution.  Most people would be unhappy with this change. When I entered into the work-force approximately 15 years ago, most of my friends and I thought the same thing:

  1. The boss seems so out of touch.
  2. This is it? This is what I spent 15-20 years in school for? I am so depressed.
  3. I am underpaid for all the crap they are asking me to do.

A sense of displacement, alienation and rejection of the ruling institutions is not unusual upon entering adulthood. The “Lost Generation” is a term popularized by Ernest Hemingway to describe the generation who came of age in the 1920’s who rejected post World War I values. Times change, human nature does not. Young workers feeling unhappy is not news. That we have the technology to express this 24/7 is the largest change.

Given several of my employees are new to the work-force (less than 3 years removed from university), I would offer these three tips:

  1. Network- we live in free agent nation. I explicitly tell my employees that I have no expectation they will be with me for a long time (one of my philosophies in life being you should do something different every 5 years. Hence, the blog ending in year 5). The best way to hop from one interesting thing to another is to meet new people with similar interests. Notice I did not say to network to find a job. Network to find people who share your values, have similar interests and who you can help in life and vice versa.   If you want tips to network, read The Start-Up of You.
  2. Find mentors- notices I used the plural. Experience, in some context, is really a pleasant way to say you failed at something and survived to tell the tale. Rather than write off the old guy as out of touch, he may actually have a few tips to share with you.
  3. Understand that the struggle itself is what makes you a better person- nothing worth pursuing is easy in life. You are supposed to fail at something you have never done before. There will be employers who simply don’t get it. This is part of life. Even the most negative work experiences can grant you nuggets of wisdom. Work in a hostile work environment or with hostile clients? Congratulations, you have just learned how to deal with difficult people on a daily basis.

Workplace struggles for younger employees is nothing new. The key is how to manage it best. Best of luck.

2 Comments on To the young worker…

By Slacker on April 12, 2012 at 9:09 am

I went to the University of Waterloo, and we have a great co-op program. I alternated between work and study every 4 months. Some terms I stayed with the same company, some others I switched jobs. Note that this is not a job placement service, we still had to interview and go through the hiring process, and compete for the job. The employers also have to entice and try to get the best candidates. In the end of 6 co-op terms, I had worked for 5 companies from different industries, culture and background.

By the time I got out of school, I have had dozens of interviews and relevant work experience on my resume already. Looking at my peers who is only beginning to find their very first job, I felt like a battle hardened veteran ready to take on anything. :)

By admin on April 16, 2012 at 8:56 pm

Slacker, thanks for sharing. You make a great point. Try to enroll in programs that have some type of practical aspect to it from a full-blown co-op to placements. It will give you a good sense of what working with people are like. Good luck with your career!

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