Thursday, October 9, 2014

Generation Why? (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this story, I give a little bit of history of how I got to where I am today with a contracted job in the public service, knowing what I want out of university, and what I learned about finding an adult job.

Yesterday, I spent some time reflecting on how I got to where I am in my adult life. I went through some of the difficult choices I had to make, and the hardships associated with leaving university not really knowing where I was going to end up. My intent today is not to place blame on the education system for that indecision, but rather to suggest ways to improve the transition from adolescence to adulthood for people entering the workforce who might not have had the opportunity to find work that they truly love in university.

It's true that most colleges and universities offer work-training programs or coops, but a student getting placed somewhere they can see themselves spending the rest of their lives is understandably pretty rare. It's very hard to tell what's going to happen 2-3 years in the future, let alone trying to decide how to spend 30 years of your working life while simultaneously developing friendships, new skills, and a social identity not shaped by your parents. Add that to the fact that cheap transportation and changing attitudes about university mean that more and more teens are moving out of their homes, or out of their cities, for post-secondary education.

For some social groups, it is assumed that if you are raising a family, you will give your child room and board throughout their education, you will subsidize their education (aided or not by scholarships) or pay for it entirely. In general, you should attempt to do everything in your power to remove as many barriers as possible to your child getting the best education. This is a great tactic, but from a generational perspective, with new families hitting the same uncertainties I described in Part 1, starting a family can seem absolutely daunting from the perspective of needing to save tens of thousands of dollars right from the outset.

I have been living for the last three years with no more than 6 months of certainty about whether I would be hitting the streets looking for a new job. Though I have only spent about 2 months out of the last 2 years unemployed, at no point did I have a job that felt like it was remotely permanent, which is a very disparaging feeling. I know I have skills that I can offer to almost any organization, and getting hired on short term contracts with fairly rigid, fixed end dates isn't something that any 20-something wants to do. It also means that once out of school, it is difficult or impossible to develop yourself professionally, for a couple of reasons. First off, you can try to sell yourself while you already have a job, but that comes off as not being appreciative of the work you have. You can try to talk about what you do in your spare time, but what business people who would potentially hire you want to know is, "What do you get paid to do?".
It all feels like a race nobody is winning.
All of the above leads me to the basic fact that time is money. Nobody wants to waste their lives away doing something they don't care about. As an employer, it is becoming increasingly difficult to justify taking a risk in hiring somebody without being able to prove by some measurement that the decision is justified and backed up by some kind of hard evidence. I know a lot of young people who are working away today without a real connection to the work they're doing, simply because it is a means to a life. And if that is all you want, putting your time in, going home and doing whatever you want, more power to you. But I think that as a society, we can do better.

I've talked before about basic income, the idea that each person would be given a basic amount of money each year to keep them above the poverty line, thus enabling people who have a lot of difficulty affording a place to live and food to eat a little bit of help. It would certainly help ease the burden of homeless shelters, soup kitchens, government welfare programs, clinics and health care facilities, and many other institutions. There is a lot of debate about an idea like this, but I given what we know about the experiments where it has been tried, a lot of good can come from it.

On the same vein, another social welfare program that I think would be extremely beneficial would be a program to give university graduates a push out the door financially. There will be some students who will fall out of university directly into a job, and those people will still be in great financial shape, so this will only benefit them a little bit. However, people like me, who are unsure where they want to go, and what they want to do, would benefit HUGELY from 6 months or so of minimum wage salary up front in the form of a stipend. Since most students fresh out of university will be faced with increasing student debt which generally starts requiring payment at the 6 month mark, this small windfall would be a huge help in staying on their feet and entering the adult world in that much better shape.

Burdens on parents and families would be reduced, as new adults would be less inclined to move back in to their parents homes, and parents would have the freedom to move if they chose, rather than holding on to family dwellings in case their children failed to launch or had difficulty finding a job. There are several European countries who don't pay for university at all, which would also be a huge financial help to students, but I think this kind of monetary reward for finishing school would be extremely beneficial.

This story will continue with Part 3 tomorrow, where I will talk about how rearranging our current post-secondary financial system could have far-reaching implications in everything from family planning, real estate, and even retirement planning. Check out Part 1 from yesterday as well.