Youth and the Future of Work: Misleading expectations and the secret weapons of youth

How does the next generation of graduates and young employees approach their working lives? What are their expectations, fears and hopes? We have asked our intern and climate action community manager Oskar to answer these questions. Here's what he and his peers have to say!

The pandemic has influenced everyone’s lives in very different ways. However, it’s clear that it has hit young people especially hard. In a stage of life in which you need to make important life decisions almost daily, in which every experience is supposed to prepare you for the coming working life, and in which your personality is developing at a rapid pace until you finally find your place in the world, a pandemic locks you up at home. As negative as all this may sound, young people around the world could also use the last 1.5 years as a lesson to learn a lot about themselves and their environment. This is one of many reasons why we as future workers come out of this time with especially great energy, strong will and drive, ready to shape the future. 

But to do so, it’s important to consider the expectations and headlines that are thrown at young people every day, to understand how they form a very specific understanding of their future working lives. 

Warning: Misleading perceptions 

If we are to believe all the reports and stories from our social environment, school, university, or social media, we as young people would be in competition with robots until we are well into our old age, only to be allowed to spend our retirement in poverty. Provided, of course, that we complete our studies at an elite university in record time, while jumping from one outstanding internship to the next. Depending on the job direction, we can then still look forward to an eternity as a permanent intern with our average university degree (“which everyone has these days anyway”). Once we have finally fought our way into a desirable situation, it is also already certain that we will only stay there for a short time, because our work has become so “agile and dynamic” that we should already move on to the next job. Time and space for a family is probably not planned. 

As young people, however, we learned long ago that this is not what we desire. While the expectation of the 20-year-old university graduate with 10 years of work experience has already become an inside joke among many young people, most have already made demands almost as absurd as this in order to somewhat temper employers’ expectations.

According to this, we expect to receive an offer for a coveted management position in a very high-profile company directly after we graduate. In this position, our working hours and vacation time would be so flexible that we won’t actually have to work at all. From then on, it’s all straight up the career ladder. But don’t worry, there are two more options. Either we’ll be discovered on Instagram tomorrow, or we’ll come up with a genius idea for our startup, which of course will then go straight through the roof. 


Decoding the misinterpretations

Fortunately for everyone involved, these statements can quickly be decoded. Thanks to the special mix of influences from Corona, globalization, digitalization and educational progress, employers can indeed look forward to very determined and highly motivated future employees. However, as job opportunities and requirements change, so do the demands and preferences of the various stakeholders. The next generation of workers has high expectations of their jobs, which reflect all of their experiences. 

Thus, young people are looking for compensation for the uncertainty of such a dynamic world of work, which today would most likely consist of an appropriate salary. Behind the expectation of being hired for a high position, furthermore, hides the aspiration for self-determination and self-realization. In a world that is becoming smaller and closer through the Internet, they are looking for the feeling of truly achieving something unique. Something to be proud of and feel responsible for. Something that really makes a difference in such a rapidly evolving world and sets you apart from others.  In addition, young people got to experience how difficult it is to actually turn off the permanent availability through various media outlets. The quest for a healthy work-life balance seems to become more and more challenging. As a result, young people are now looking for more than just a job. We want to be able to identify with the values of an organization and feel like being part of something important. We want to spend our time and energy on something meaningful.

Recent time has already shown what the youth is capable of. Through movements like “Fridays for Future” we have already made our impact. The youth is aware of their powerful platform and understands how to use it for their own interests. Even while the world was almost completely paralyzed for a while, we had enough time to gather our thoughts and energy to start a new wave of activism. If the next generation of workers knows one thing, it is that together we have tremendous power. In a world that is almost entirely happening in front of computer screens, the youth is strong enough to turn sustainability and climate activism from just a trend into a permanent and compelling part of every work activity. 

As future employees, this means we are not simply the future. We have the power to stand up for our interests and fight for our future now. Not only because our platform allows us to, but because we don’t have the time to wait for the future to arrive until it’s our turn! 

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Amelie is an alumna of the first 24YOU gap year program. At that time, with her high school diploma in hand, she had no set plans for the future. Today, she is studying business administration for her master's degree and works in HR-consulting. Learn how the program helped her on her way and why it is even more important for graduates to apply after two years of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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