Across the country this week events are taking place to mark national Careers Week – a UK-wide drive to raise awareness of career paths for young people. Helping shape the futures of youngsters is an important job carried out by our advisors day in day out, but it’s fair to say the challenges facing the young people of today are markedly different to those encountered by previous generations.
Globally there is no shortage of witty epithets for those born between the ‘80s and the mid-‘2000s – including ‘Generation Y’, ‘Millennial’, ‘Generation Me’ and ‘Generation Rent’. What’s more, the mainstream media can be quick to ascribe certain characteristics to what it deems an ‘entitled’ generation. In Japan, more measured terminology is used, through the phrase ‘nagara-zosku’ – translating quite simply as “the people who are always doing two things at once”. In Germany, the term ‘Generation Maybe’ has surfaced to refer to a group considered well-connected and educated, multilingual and outward-minded, but who are so overwhelmed by the possibilities available to them that they struggle to commit to anything.
Regardless of what you call them, millennials seem to be the most studied and talked about generation to date. They are the first generation in history that has grown up completely enveloped in digital technology, which is embedded deep within their psyches and has therefore created lasting social, political and cultural attitudes.
Yet the popular discourse of millennials is that they’re lazy, self-obsessed and narcissistic; protected and pampered yet psychologically floored by minor setbacks. There is a real danger that these reductionist descriptions can lead to stereotypes that skew reality. To bash Generation Y is to neglect the stark fact that underpinning many confident facades can be insecurity and uncertainty about the future. Study after study tells us that anxiety among young people is rife, with mental health problems on the rise. Far from being carefree and entitled, Generation Y is feeling the pressure more than ever.
Many young people today face a toxic combination of high life expectations, high needs and excessive wants, which can fuel chronic low self-esteem. What many are happy to deem as arrogance is actually a by-product of immense pressure – to have everything, immediately, and to know everything, now. Much of the problem relates to their being born into the eye of the storm at the very pinnacle of the consumer age. This can breed competition, unrealistic expectations and angst, all of which is compounded by some media role models representing a warped version of what it means to be successful and fulfilled.
Our own research points to young people being under-confident in their decision-making, and readily admitting to being reluctant to seek support when they need it. According to our annual Career Check survey, 20% of 18,000 Welsh Year 10s and 11s surveyed confess that they ‘don’t have a plan for the future’, 30% state that they do have a plan for the future but don’t know how to make it happen, 45% feel they are aware of opportunities, but might need more information, and 32% know who to go to for help, but state that they ‘probably won’t’. Adding to this, 62% report making their own decisions, but are ‘not sure they always do it well’.
This snapshot into the thought patterns of those surveyed demonstrates a greater than ever need to support, reassure and guide young people. We must therefore all take seriously our role of providing much-needed reassurance and counsel at every opportunity.
Besides, there is much to celebrate about Generation Y. Many of the young people I see today are open-minded, upbeat, and passionate. They show huge promise and seemingly limitless talents. This generation is the largest in Western history, not to mention the most focused on educational attainment. Many are excited about their careers, and will work hard and efficiently.
They also possess a unique skillset that can add huge value to businesses and the wider economy. Millennials are multitaskers. They’re well-connected, experts at tech, flexible, collaborators and can be natural team-workers. They’re also highly focused on advancement – which can mean they make a driven workforce.
We all know that finding the right path in life can be tough. In today’s globalised society young people can often feel fatigued and bombarded by options. They can face conflicting advice from friends, family and teachers, so the right advice at the right time is more important than ever to improve self-awareness, raise aspirations and deal with changing circumstances. It’s everyone’s responsibility to do their bit. So let’s use Careers Week to celebrate millennials, commit to pulling together to recognising their unique talents, and strive to support them to reach the bright future that they deserve.
Perhaps we should rename it as Generation Y Not?