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Gen Y Should Give Us Hope: It’s About Self-Empowerment

December 15, 2013

Young People Society, for whatever reason, has traditionally looked at youth as pampered, lazy and possessing no goal in life.

When I was a teen in the early seventies growing up in Montreal, my parents and their peers thought that my contemporaries and I were all depraved and on drugs. It’s part of the human experience, and almost seems as a right of passage to becoming a supposedly mature adult. Whatever that means.

More to the point, let’s look at how Gen Y (18 to 33 years of age) has been faring in the labor market over the past few years, previous expectations not just by this age cohort but by the alleged experts, and what the future may hold for them.

We all like to categorize people into discrete compartments, whether it’s in an organizational context using personality type indicators or in the more public social sphere. I’m not excluding myself since I, too, have talked in numerous posts and e-books about some of the distinguishing characteristics of the different generations. I have, however, tried to put the unique problems facing Gen Y into perspective.

In my opinion, too much continues to be written about how Gen Y lacks the drive and work ethic of older generations, such as Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation (age 68 and up). From my view it’s about perspective and frame of reference. Besides being someone who has spent over 30 years in and around labor market, demographic and HR issues, I also have four adult kids who are Gen Yers (though the oldest is a borderline Gen Xer). So I have some first-hand experience.

To profile one of my three daughters, who worked through a learning disability to become a paramedic, while working part-time as a server, and then who wanted to become a nurse, all the while working part-time as a paramedic, to eventually earn a BSc in nursing with honors, and then immediately became an ER nurse, if that’s lazy and unfocused then I’m living on a distant planet.

During my last few years with the Government of Canada, leading up to my retirement in December 2010, a huge recruitment campaign was underway to rejuvenate the public service. I met and worked with a wide variety of really smart and talented young people from across Canada. I was super impressed with these young folks. Perhaps many of them were over confident, wanting to make significant contributions to their country, but they were keen to serve.

Young People2 After I retired and took up some research and writing contract work, I met more very smart and cool Gen Yers. And during this time I also decided to do some part-time work in the retail sector, going back to my early years as a college grad who first worked in consumer lending. I recently worked for a year for the world’s largest home improvement company, where the store’s workforce ranged from late teens to around 70 years of age. I really enjoyed working with the younger folks. They were really smart and had great people skills. And they weren’t cranky like some of my Baby Boomer peers.

More recently I switched to working for a locally-owned outdoor gear retailer. While there is a handful of older employees, most are in their twenties. And they’re a sharp bunch.

And when I stop in at my local coffee shop I see more really on-the-ball young people.

What really bothers me is that as much as working in the service sector as a young person can provide valuable experiences (such as with three of my four kids when they were younger), what we’re seeing now is the emergence of an economy where young people get trapped in low wage jobs.

This is not right, and more importantly has disastrous long-term implications for a nation’s economy. Gen X, already swiftly climbing the corporate ladder to executive positions, looks down on Gen Y as its service provider, getting their skinny lattes or climbing a ladder to fetch their high-end outdoor gear. Baby Boomers are too stunned to get it, consumed with either not getting laid off before they retire or calculating their retirement plans. And the Silent Generation is on another planet, basking in their self-perceived well-deserved vacations in the U.S. south.

The wrenching changes that have occurred in the global economy since our entry into the new millennium have totally changed our economic landscape. Gen Y, with years of naïve predictions and encouraging words from pseudo experts, found itself in a sea of turmoil after the 2008-09 financial meltdown and ensuing recession. And they were left, for the most part, by policy makers and politicians in Canada and the U.S. to figure it out on their own.

Luckily, going back to my earlier comments Gen Y is doing just that, starting new ventures and not waiting for the older grown-ups to help them. It’s all about self-empowerment, understanding that no one else but YOU can make the decision to self-initiate and make something happen.

If you need some motivation, take a moment to watch this video of Malala Yousafzai the 16 year-old Pakistani teen who was shot in the head by the Taliban in early 2013. Malala has been outspoken for several years on the right for Pakistani girls to have an education. The Taliban didn’t like this and tried to assassinate her, except that it backfired.

Malala didn’t just survive but she took control of her future and has become an international spokesperson on education, and was shortlisted for the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize. Her autobiography was released in the fall of 2013.

Take control of your future.


We realize the importance of our voice when we are silenced.

Malala Yousafzai


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2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 16, 2013 1:04 am

    Exactly Susan. I fully realize that there are teens and Gen Yers. who are disenfranchised from the labor market and who are directionless, but then so were many Boomers many years ago. I believe that the coming years will prove that Gen Y (and Gen Z) is indeed a generation with ideas and a new approach to work that will prove beneficial to the economy and society.

  2. December 15, 2013 5:07 pm

    I look at my children and their friends and I’m filled with hope. They are bright, savvy and highly motivated. They are efficient in how they do tasks and often have creative solutions for how to improve situations. They balance work with social life. Their values are in the right place.

    I realize I’m looking at a small microcosm of youth, but I believe Gen Y will have its own broad share of accomplishments, even if how they achieve those successes is different in approach than other generations.

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