The New York Times and Globe And Mail recently published articles on the difficulties of being a Millennial in today’s rough and tumble economy. An economy that, for the lack of a better word, just fucks over anyone in their 20’s. I definitely agree with the fact that we’re living in difficult economic times and that it’s not easy to start your professional career. I once was an unpaid intern doing work for a company that I should have been paid for, a company who didn’t really appreciate me at all. Even worse, after a few months I got hired and was given access to a world of moderate means and even more menial work. Yay me.
Strangely, I get pretty pissed when I read these articles that are supposed to reflect our generation because they portray our generation as if we were starving children in a third world country. Our situation isn’t “bad” in the “we’re going to die from starvation bad”, but more of a “I thought I was going to get X but instead got Y bad”. People thought that after paying tens of thousands (god forbid hundreds of thousands) of dollars, that they would be prepared for a work force that would invite them with open arms and at the very least, they would get paid enough that they wouldn’t have to live at home. But they didn’t.
Both articles (if not all) will mention something about how these Millennials have worked so hard, done so much, volunteered their time and effort and are now baristas that live with 17 roommates in a house that is made out of mold and asbestos. But here’s the real hard truth about our generation:
The work that we do is not worth money.
I mean seriously. It’s really not. In my first internship fresh out of school, I really didn’t know what I was doing. I took one class in 4 years that taught me how to barely use Adobe InDesign. I didn’t really write as much as I should have and I just used social media to pick up girls in my class. Objectively, I was way more skilled than my bosses. However, I was also fucking terrible at what I did. Even worse, nobody told me that the problem is that what I’m doing isn’t profitable, it’s just the “fluff” that people in real careers choose not to do.
In my old internship, one of my tasks was to “punch up” an extremely shitty Microsoft Word document that the company presented to potential clients to sell them on a certain product. I spent hours converting a terrible Word template into something that was pretty and effectively conveyed the identity of the brand. I remember complaining to my girlfriend at the time that I was being abused as an intern and how this was total bullshit. Now I realize the truth: that document didn’t need to be improved at all. It would have been nice to have it look all pretty and what not, but it was absolutely not vital in the selling process. I doubt the sales people ever used it. The point is that almost all of my tasks would not have meant a measurable change in the company’s profits.
The skill set that we picked up as a generation (basic computer skills, understanding of social media and the internet etc) aren’t real “skills”. They just are. In my opinion, saying that you have “strong social media skills” is like saying that you speak English or that you know how to breathe air. I remember seeing the first episode of the show “Girls” and there was a part where Lena Dunham’s boss tells her character that the other girl that was interning got a job because she knows Photoshop. My instinctive reaction was “who the fuck doesn’t know how to use Photoshop?” It’s really not that hard.
That is not to say that the New York Times article about young people that intern for 60 hours a week and get paid pennies isn’t heart breaking, because it is. No one should work that much, period. The real sad part is that their work is the shitty menial labour of our generation. Answering emails isn’t a marketable skill anymore, nor is responding to phone calls at all hours of the night. Sadly, they’re just doing the left over junk that people higher up don’t want to do. Similarly, I feel that social media is not a mission critical position in a company. You can read mashable all you want, but no one stopped buying Big Mac’s just because McDonalds’ twitter account was hacked.
These conditions and expectations are magnified by the fact that young kids want to work in cool places, and cool places have an endless supply of people that want to work there for free, because it’s cool. If you owned a cool business and people were offering to work for free, wouldn’t you take them up on it?
When I look around at the our generation, I only see 2 groups of people: those who are lucky to have the jobs they currently have and the under employed. You either have game and are waiting for a Lebron like situation where you are developing the skills to blow up in your field and crush it, or some how you got lucky and have a career where you get paid decently and just maintain the status quo. I honestly have not seen any other scenario. If you’re in the latter category, congrats. You are one of the few and you should enjoy it. However, you better cling on to that job like it’s the last life jacket on the Titanic because your ticket will come up some day, and when it happens it will be ugly.
We live in a generation where people complain about the inability to find good paying jobs, but any quick search on O-Desk shows that any internship level tasks that are required can be accomplished for pennies on the dollar. My friend and I found one such person living in the Philippines who knew C#, Objective C, Python and Ruby with 90% proficiency in English looking for work for $5.00 an hour. Five-fucking-dollars an hour. Needless to say, this is some scary fucking shit.
On the upside, if this person has all these skills and is looking for work, the real skill is learning enough that you can utilize and manage this person. I truly believe that the problem with our generation is that most of us believe that just because we can use social media and a computer better than our bosses, we should have jobs. That is definitely not the case. The reason that anyone should really have a job is because your economic output is larger than their input, or in other words, we pay you money so you make more money.
For the last few months, I’ve been trying to focus a small amount of time in order to learn and improve “real skills” such as programming, networking and executing small projects in order to become a fucking monster in the workforce and to hopefully start my own company someday. I would love to see people my age at the meetups and lectures that I attend, but I’m strangely the youngest person at these events by a long shot.
I truly believe those who have ambition and the will to improve themselves will win out in the end. I just hope that my generation becomes less jaded about the opportunities in front of them and becomes more realistic about what it takes to earn a reasonable living in our day and age.