My speech on Gen Y was about tough love
In a speech to Young Labor seven months ago I said that generations were often unfairly criticised by the ones which preceded them.
The young adults of Generation Y are often generalised as being plagued by apathy and indifference.
They’re sometimes called lazy and ungrateful for the many perceived advantages they have over earlier generations.
I disagree with that. I told delegates at the time that I thought Generation Y was the best educated and technologically savvy generation of Australians ever – with more potential than any other generation and the best hope of the country. At the weekend I again spoke to Young Labor, this time about the most pressing challenge facing young people – unemployment.
That speech has been widely reported as attacking Generation Y as “job snobs”, telling them to take whatever job they could because “beggars can’t be choosers”.
That is an extreme simplification and distortion of what I was trying to convey.
My message to Generation Y and all young people is not to let the global recession dent your confidence and that they should in fact continue to reach for the stars and follow their dreams. The dreams and ambitions of a generation are what drives society to new heights.
But, I asked Generation Y to also be realistic and see their dreams in the current global circumstances.
I believe every generation is shaped by its circumstances.
My grandmother, Dorothea Weight, was born in 1916. When she was a teenager the Great Depression devastated economies around the world. That experience shaped her.
She always worried about having money to put food on the table. She worried about economic stability. Time and time again, she told me: ‘Find a job, work hard and save for a house’.
When I told her I was standing for the Senate she was worried that I would only have job security for six years. She was part of a generation where once you started work you generally stayed in the same job pretty much your whole life.
She was shaped by the environment in which she grew up.
As a child of Generation X, I saw my mother struggle through the downturn of the 1980s. When I left school in 1989 jobs, even part-time jobs, were very hard to come by. By the early ‘90s unemployment was over 10 per cent.
Generation X was the first generation where going to university was attainable for most Australians. We had opportunities, but we worried about getting a job, even if we had a university degree.
Generation Y has grown up under different circumstances.
During the past 10 years we’ve been through the mining boom. We’ve been through the property boom. Times were good.
People of all ages began to take employment for granted and job seekers had the upper hand.
But in the past year the global recession has completely changed the way we think about jobs and the economy.
My message applies to all job seekers, young and mature age. We need to be adaptive and flexible in the way we look at employment.
Strive for your dream job. Get the training and the education and work towards it.
However, in the current economic climate times will get tougher before they get easier, particularly until we see a major turnaround in the economies of our trading partners.
We all have a responsibility to do everything we possibly can to keep Australians in work. That’s why the Government is throwing everything at it with the Economic Stimulus Package.
We know from previous recessions that young people and casual workers are generally the first to feel the brunt of the downturn, followed by mature aged workers and the long-term unemployed.
And we’ve already seen it happen. The youth unemployment rate sits at 12.3 per cent.
What we don’t want to happen is what’s happened in previous recessions where we end up with a generation of unemployed people and intergenerational unemployment.
My concern for young Australians is that we are coming out of a period of relatively low unemployment and the employment choices previously available will just not be there.
In these circumstances, now is not the time to wait around for your dream job - dive into the labour market and get your foot on the employment ladder. Future employers will give you credit for working during these tough times.
I was asked by a journalist at the weekend if my comments were a case of “tough love”. I suppose they are.
The aim of my speech was not to “bash” Generation Y. It was to say to all job seekers that by being flexible and adapting to the current circumstances, riding out the tough times will be less traumatic and help ensure our brightest generation reaches its full potential.
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