Moving Goalposts in the Game of Life for Young People
Picture this: You’re 16 and midway through your first term studying for A Levels. You’ve given a cursory thought to which university you want to go to but you’re not really sure what it is that you want to do for a career as yet. Who does at your age?
If this was you in 1985, despite the high levels of unemployment and problems in traditional industries such as mining, your concerns about your career wouldn’t be too great. After all, if you were intending to go to university, you would be in a very small percentage of the population and, if you were to take the opportunities available to you as a graduate, you would have a very good chance of building a solid career, getting yourself on the property ladder (home ownership was becoming all the rage, after all) and settling down to have a family. The suburban dream!
Jump forward ten years to 1995 and your worries about your career and money would have increased slightly as you wouldn’t have received a grant at university. You’d be relying on your student loan, your overdraft and whatever work you could fit in around your studies, to see you through your degree. But your chances of a decent career where still pretty good, so you would have felt more aggrieved about having to pay back your student loan rather than dismayed by the prospect. Life beyond university would have seemed pretty good, offering as it did the prospect of low-cost travel, increased global employment opportunities, and the chance to live pretty much wherever you wanted. You’d find work somewhere and it might even be something you’d really enjoy.
Another decade on and you’re into 2005, a new century. The millennium bug didn’t end the world but the internet has certainly transformed it. Although you’re still a few years away from it, you know that competition for graduate jobs has increased, as has the size of the student loan you’ll be taking on, so you and your fellow 16 year olds are starting to think much more about jobs that will pay you the best salary, rather than the jobs you really want to do. House prices have risen dramatically, so you’re not sure how big a place you’ll be able to afford, but at least you can get a 100% mortgage. You’ll need that if you’re going to work in London as you hope to. Thoughts of having a family are a long way off. You want to enjoy your career first, whatever it may be.
And then we hit 2015. In the last ten years, the world has changed irrevocably for school leavers. Tuition fees now dwarf the maintenance loans you accrue at university. Most graduates aren’t going to find graduate work. Salaries are down across the board and the idea of supporting a family on the minimum wage like your parents just about managed to do seems absurd. You’re not sure you’ll be able to afford the sky-high rents now being charged. Raising the cash for a mortgage deposit is a pipe dream. You have no idea what your career will be but you’re pretty certain it will be close to home as you know you’ll be living with your parents. You may even be living off them.
Game Changer for the players
You would expect circumstances to change over the course of thirty years but the speed and impact of the changes brought on by the global financial crisis during the last decade have completely changed the rules of the game for young people today. The old truism that studying hard would lead to you getting a degree, then getting a well-paid job, then finding a home and building a successful life for yourself just doesn’t hold up any longer.
Young people need to be more resilient than ever. Aside from gaining qualifications (whether academic or vocational), they need to be building a broader set of life skills that will help them to make their way through the incredibly tough environment they find themselves in.
They need to have a much better understanding of the world of work. They need to have much more knowledge of financial matters than previous generations ever did. They need to understand their place in the world and what they can do to change it.
In short, they need to be better prepared.
If we want them to achieve their potential, we need to provide them with a planned programme of skills development that is fit for the world in which they now find themselves. To fail to do so would not just be letting them down but ourselves. After all, as Whitney Houston sang back in those carefree days of 1985, “the children are our future”!