Talking to my children and their friends in their late teens and early twenties, I am aware of a sense of doom. These young people were still at primary school when the financial crisis hit but after the long slog of austerity they had reasonable expectations that their futures looked fairly bright… until COVID hit. Now they have not only lost their last days at school or chunks of their university lives, they are worried that they are going to lose their careers.
I don’t know what the jobs market will be like after lockdown ends or how quickly the economy will recover, but young people feel anxious that opportunities which would have been available a few months ago have now been snatched from their grasp. Experienced and fully trained older people will be an easy hire and all the young have got in their favour is their low cost. Many have gone straight from school or university to supermarkets and whilst there is nothing wrong with retail work and it may be the start of something amazing for some, the majority don’t want to be trapped with a CV which forces them down routes they don’t want to travel.
We all need to be aware of the false start this generation is having and, more importantly, take a wider view of the experiences they are gaining. Those who are working are putting themselves at risk of infection, they are dealing with colleagues and members of the public who are fearful and difficult, they are learning about industries which are genuinely essential. Those who have not found jobs are managing an exclusively online social life and coping with their parents – no small task at that age – whilst being amazingly creative in many cases.
These future employees will have resilience, diversity of experience and a very thorough understanding of what a disaster looks like. They will also have knowledge of how businesses can adapt and what alternative technology and methodology can achieve. I don’t think there is any need for this generation to be told to commute to an office every day. Indeed, I am not sure that they will want to work in a traditional way at all.
We all have a part to play in bringing these young people on. We can mentor them, we can employ them, we can back their businesses when they start them. Most importantly, we can look behind their CVs, remember our own feelings of anxiety during this time and give them credit for stepping up, moving on and making the best of things.