Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Growing Up and Getting a Job

I'd like to take a moment to comment on an article I read recently on the New York Times. This article, like many I've read before, tries very hard to answer the question on their readers' minds. What the hell is wrong with young people these days?

They phrase it more politely than that of course, but it's pretty clear what they're driving at. They want to know why young people won't settle down, finish school, find a job, get married, and have kids. I've read dozens of articles in major newspapers with this exact same question, this exact same complaint.

I'm going to focus on the issue of finding a job, because that's the issue I happen to be the most familiar with (and also one of the most common complaints). I also think that most of the other issues are tied in with that one.

This article is actually slightly encouraging in that it acknowledges that the economy is doing poorly, and expecting young people to just go out there and find a job right away isn't exactly realistic. This realization comes a little late in my opinion. Even when the economy was doing well, there was always a real shortage of entry level jobs.

I graduated with a computer science degree in 2005. I was surprised at how little help I received with finding a job. No one pointed me in the direction of companies looking for interns or entry level programmers. Nobody gave me any advice on how to design my resume or interview well. I went online looking for advice, but I found most of it to be either obvious, unhelpful or contradictory.

I applied for several companies that I never heard back from. The one interview I did get didn't go anywhere. Since then I've been applying for programming jobs off and on without any success.

I signed up with a temp agency and managed to get a few different job placements. None of them were amazing jobs, but I would have been glad to stay with them if they had hired me full time. None of them did.

While I was a temp I worked at a lot of different places for a variety of different bosses. Some of them were okay, but some of them were downright capricious. I remember being told by one company that the person I was working for was an impossible man with unrealistic expectations. I wasn't the first person who had been let go with little to no reason, and the HR person was getting frustrated trying to find someone who could satisfy him.

Most of the time I would work hard and finish an assignment much earlier than was expected. My reward for finishing my responsibilities in a timely manner was a swift return to the unemployment line.

At which point I would come home and read another article about how young people are just too lazy to find a job.

As the economic meltdown continues, we're going to have to learn how to solve these problems. If we're ever going to return to full employment, companies are going to have to suck it up and start hiring inexperienced workers. They can't rely on some other company to train their workforce for them.

At the same time, middle aged men and women are going to have to get over their naked hatred of lazy twenty-somethings. They'll have to learn how to put aside their prejudice and understand that, properly employed, we can be valuable and productive members of society. They just need someone pointing them in the direction of a job that needs doing.

I don't think we're going to solve any of these problems anytime soon. I expect this financial crisis will continue for quite awhile. In the meantime I expect that the older generation's disdain for the younger generation will continue unabated. Of course, this disdain is only reinforcing the economic crisis that hurts all of us, but I don't think the older generation has quite figured that out yet.

Here's to hoping they figure it out before unemployment hits 25%.


  1. Experience has nothing to do with it. There are plenty of entry level jobs, but they've been mostly shipped to India or China while you and I were growing up. In the heads of the bean-counters, it makes more sense to hire 5 sloppy Indian workers than to hire 1 meticulous American worker. On an Excel spreadsheet, 5 Indians equal 1 American. So what can our generation do? Perhaps we can pack our bags and go where the jobs are.

  2. That's certainly part of the picture. It's the cost of having such a high standard of living. As education in other countries improves, the IT industry is now able to do what the manufacturing industry did back in the 70's and 80's.

    As an aside, I don't know if I buy into the characterization that Indian workers are sloppy while American workers are meticulous, but even if that's true, it's clear that an American worker isn't worth five times as much as an Indian worker.

    Also, this experience thing happens in other fields too. A few years back I thought maybe I was just setting my sights to high and I tried applying to retail jobs. Everywhere I applied they were looking for people with more experience. So it's not just a matter of jobs going oversees. It's not like they can outsource retail.

    But any way you look at it, America's economy is in pretty bad shape. This makes it especially hard for younger people to find a job, but instead of trying to solve the problem, the older generation decides to right patronizing articles about how we're immature and refuse to grow up. A lot of us tried to grow up. We tried to enter into the adult world of working hard and making a living and we had the door slammed in our face. But good luck finding a major newspaper that will run that story.

  3. Well, I've been on the receiving end of fast-but-sloppy Indian drafts-people. I can never understand why they can't just hire the little American intern and get him/her to do it right the first time around.

    On the experience bit...the core of the problem is that we went to a research institution that trains people for academia, and academia don't give a crap about helping people find real jobs with real wages. Meanwhile, the community colleges have been training people for the workforce for a measly $26 per unit. Now go figure who's been getting the jobs--it's the kids who went to JC's. Even in retail, the people who get jobs are the ones who've been doing retail in one form or another since they were barely legal to work. So those of us who've been told the myth of "forget summer jobs, because good grades at a famous school will get you anywhere" are left wondering what went wrong along the way.

    I am currently studying architecture at a community college with a bunch of kids who are 8-10 years younger than me. Competition is stiff, and it's hard to keep up when you're already 30. But really, school is a life-long thing, and there's no such thing as "too old to pick up new skillz."