Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Vol #1, Col #5: Good Old Credentialism: Look Out Retail Management, I Just Got My B.A. in English!

As much as I hate those guilt trip-ridden conversations with the parental units that begin with, “when I was your age…” I’ve gotta say there is something to them, especially when it comes to the subject of “growing up” (and by that I mean, fulfilling the checklist of getting the car, career, spouse, 1.2 kids, and the white picket fence). But, as pointed out in Foot and Stoffman’s seminal work, "Boom, Bust and Echo”, which dissects market trends based on demographic theory, the concept of the ‘generation gap’ (ie: the inability of those from a given generation to be able to relate to their predecessors and/or ancestors) is nothing new.

We all grow up within a given cohort, and it is those shared experiences
(mediated and impacted by the
decisions made by the generations that came prior) that determine not only many of the social aspects of our lives, but as well the marketplace with which we are faced. As alluded to by the title of this article, a growing phenomenon that us twenty-somethings are now burdened with is UNDERemployment (ie: we are overcredentialized for the positions that are accessible to us upon graduation).
The narratives that our parents and grandparents like to rely upon in order to justify why we are still co-dependent, unmarried (and childless), and only earning $9.50 an hour ($12 at best!), in our twenties, state that we are lazy, unmotivated, and seriously lacking in the strong work ethic department (ie: our social circumstances are entirely a result of our OWN failings). Now, there are obviously bad apples in every group, but we can hardly consider them representative of larger social trends. In fact, contrary to what these “generational bitchings” (yes, a term I have now coined) suggest, we have MORE people not only attending post-secondary institutes, but further obtaining post-grad degrees, than EVER before!

Taking this simple fact into consideration, it is easy to see that ultimately all of these mythologies about our cohort being spread by seniors come down to fear: they’re scared we’re gonna screw up the very world they worked so hard to create – the world we’re inheriting – and frankly, they also don’t want us to take over the reins just yet (again, it’s nothing new that people get the willies when it comes to being labeled old and incompetent, read: they’re gonna be kicking and screaming all the way to the old-age homes). The ironic part of all of this, of course, is that they (ie: the babyboomers), purely because of their sheer numbers, are largely to blame for our predicament:

TOO many babyboomers are holding on for dear life to their jobs, which in turn disallows us from ever climbing up the social ranks. The result: while the cushy positions remain occupied, all that’s left for grabs for us are the medial labour jobs, admin positions, retail and service-oriented work, and, don’t forget, the paradise known as the fast-food industry. Even then, many of the jobs that we can “get our hands on” (or better yet, particularly in the case of the last industry mentioned on the aforementioned list, “sink our teeth into”) are still only part-time, temporary, or contractual (ie: we have NO sense of stability, and are often forced to live paycheck-to-paycheck. With student loans to pay off, this typically doesn’t go over very well).

But in all fairness, pensions have been cut dramatically in many fields, forcing seniors to take a hiatus from their golfing expeditions and air-conditioned Floridian lifestyles to re-enter the workforce. In addition, because we are in uncertain economic times (ie: thanks to the so-called war-on-terror, along with changing environmental practices, among other things), having a single job (or for that matter relying on a single family income) that is able to substantiate one’s lifestyle, in the first place, is becoming increasingly next to impossible (yes, I work three myself, and go to school part-time, I hardly think I’m lazy and unmotivated as the popular discourse would suggest).

Remember the good old days when you could purchase a full tank of gas for less than $15? NO, neither do I, but I do know that in some alternative universe, many moons ago, such was the reality. Though our technology has allowed us to produce products faster, and at a cheaper rate, the fact that only a handful of corporate conglomerates control some absurd amount (upwards of 70%) of the entire world’s economy allows them to over-charge us ignorant consumers in an effort to maximize profits which, according to the compelling documentary, The Corporation, is their legal designation, above all others. The point: everything these days, from foodstuff to rental properties, is MORE expensive.

But, don’t think for a second that our governments are innocent in this equation either. In fact, some governments go out of their way to ensure that corporations will maintain their headquarters within the territories under their charge to ensure that their economies remain solid. Consequently, white collar crimes, the disregard for environmental regulations, human rights violations (including the privatization of essential resources such as water), and the like get completely skated over as if they weren’t serious concerns. As ACDC put it: “money talks.”

Human labour in a lot of previously valued, and highly regarded positions (particularly, machine-oriented grunt work) is no longer required, thanks to technology. For all the good it has brought, it has also cost a lot of people their salaries.

Moreover, because we are increasingly moving in the globalized direction and the disparities in wealth between the poorest and richest nations continue to expand, it is in the best interests of corporations
(read: more cost-effective) to outsource their labour. If you’ve ever wondered how and why it is possible that you can phone up what appears to be a local helpline for your cable, phone, or internet service, yet get connected with someone who speaks broken English at best, there’d be your answer.

Because our parents and our parents’ parents fought long and hard not only for equitable access to higher education, but as well for better quality learning overall, there is a widespread belief ingrained within our society that if you don’t obtain a university degree (moreover, a university degree in a “PRACTICAL” field like medicine, engineering, teaching, or law), you will FAIL at life. While I’m not suggesting that all of us undergrads ought to go on our spring breaks and never come back, I do feel that it would do society a lot of good if it acknowledged that the “essentiality” of a university degree is tempered by one’s residential terrain in terms of its level of urbanization, and its population characteristics (ie: which demographic groups compose the primary target markets).

For example, in London, Ontario where the available jobs for people of my educational level and age are largely in the financial, service, real estate or customer service sectors, I’ve got a girlfriend who merely finished grade twelve, and consistently has been employed in better paying positions. Why you ask? For the simple reason that she’s bilingual. Similarly, my older brother has never gone to university, likely couldn’t write a properly structured thesis for the life of him, and doesn’t have a clue as to how to study effectively, but guess what? He earns as much as THREE times what I do for the simple reason that he works within the trades.

Finally, if you come from a well-regarded family within your city, connections will often bypass the entire application and interview process. So, as much as I value my education, I question just how transferable and valued the skills that I have been taught are in the real world.

Alright, get to the point you’re all thinking, so here it is: they say that too little choice is debilitating, but I’d like to argue that the opposite is true as well. While some of our parents and grandparents may have been miserable with the changeless and predictable existences they led, in my view, it would have been a hell of a lot easier to determine your future direction when it was clearly plotted out for you. You either inherited the family business, or studied under a subject area which you knew would lead to a specific employment outcome, you either married your neighbour, highschool sweetheart, or the match arranged for you in advance, you had at least one child (preferably a boy), and were well into your rearing years by your thirties, at the latest.

These days the dialogues on the milestones one must hit throughout their life course range from stating that “40 is the new 30”, AND you’re supposed to be a worth a few million by 20. With all of these mixed messages, not to mention the catch 22 education/employment opportunities we have to contend with, I’m certainly not surprised that most of us don’t have it together just yet. Maybe it’s our parents who need to get with the program!