Sun, Jan 13, 2019 - Page 15 News List

Burned-out millennials need careers, not just jobs

By Noah Smith  /  Bloomberg Opinion

Jobseekers talk with representatives from Aldi at a job fair in Sunrise, Florida, on June 21 last year.

Photo: AP

At a time when lots of attention is being paid to inequality, poverty and the travails of the working class, it might seem callous to worry about the problems of the educated elite.

However, there are important reasons to be concerned about the fates of recent US college graduates.

First, a healthy economy needs to make optimal use of talent — if smart people are funneled into useless or counterproductive tasks, their skills and the resources spent educating them will go to waste.

Second, when educated people’s expectations are frustrated by a dysfunctional economic system, they can turn their formidable talent and energy toward disrupting that system, leading to social unrest.

So when educated millennials talk about being fed up with their careers, policymakers ought to listen.

An essay by Anne Helen Peterson gained attention for characterizing the millennial experience as one of “burnout,” describing the author’s own frustrations with a stymied academic career and crushing student loans.

However, what exactly is ailing educated young people?

One problem is that too many are trying to become professors. The end of the university expansion of the 20th century, as well as efforts by schools to restrain spiraling costs, has led to the near-disappearance of the coveted tenure-track jobs.

Doctoral students spend their time ensconced in an academic environment, where success equals professorship. Their role models and advisers are all professors.

However, the resulting monomaniacal focus on academia often causes them to miss out on the burgeoning universe of rewarding, lucrative private-sector jobs, and instead consigns them to being low-paid adjuncts or precarious post-docs as their student loans go unpaid.

Meanwhile, other formerly reliable career options for those with humanities degrees are drying up. The demand for lawyers, journalists, teachers and government workers is anemic and shows no signs of recovering

The system offers little guidance. It is not simply that educated people are not getting jobs in the US — their unemployment rate is just 2.1 percent:

Instead, their careers are taking too long to get started. In addition to the many years spent in classrooms rather than earning money, young people are forced to spend years navigating a bewildering jungle of jobs that did not exist 10 years ago — social media marketer, growth hacker, data technician.

Other than hapless university career counselors, stripped-down job Web sites and online forums full of unreliable chatter, there is no one to help educated young people through the maze.

The knowledge that they might be missing out on better opportunities, and the frustration of not knowing where they should go next, might be one reason millennials have such low commitment to the organizations where they work.

A 2016 Gallup survey found that 60 percent of young adults said they were open to other job opportunities and 55 percent said they did not feel engaged at work.

Not knowing where to go next can be especially nerve-wracking when student debt collectors are breathing down one’s neck. Even measured against rising wages for the college-educated, student loans have increased.

In other words, what educated millennials need is not just jobs; they need help plotting a course that will reliably lead them to upward mobility and justify the expense of their education.

This story has been viewed 1797 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top