It used to be simple: graduate from high school, move on to college (with varying lengths of professional preparation), get an entry-level job, and, voila—you were “launched” into adulthood, a career, and self-supporting behavior. The launch was a rite of passage, a move from the shelter of Mom and Dad to a bracing life of independence and career “success” (whatever that meant).
But, as 21st century grads ready themselves for worldly participation, the once normative passage from college to first job grows increasingly challenging. Underemployment, unemployment, global mobility, and a lengthier “launch stage” have made internships, temp work, entrepreneurial ventures, and stints in a variety of “disorderly” experiences more common.
Well educated, well connected, motivated, socially networked twenty-somethings are competing with older non-retiring workers and people willing to take lower pay for entry level jobs that are now as rare as rain in the Atacama Desert. It is, on some level, shocking.
A friend’s daughter had her heart set on being a writer for Gourmet magazine some day. She was disconsolate when disruptions in the magazine world caused that venerable old magazine to close and it took her a while to “re-envision” her life path. Education and connections still matter—indeed they may be more critical than ever—but they are not a guarantee of entry into careers and professions that once assured the realization of ever more comfortable lifestyles.
One in seven millenials with jobs still rely on parental subsidy. A successful “launch” today requires more than a good school pedigree and connections. This generation will need new strategies and tools to achieve independence and well-being.
Whether 5, 15, or 25, preparing young people to launch into a purposeful adulthood and develop their own safety nets means helping them envision themselves less inside specific jobs and professions and more as contributors to great work. Effective safety nets will be self-invented and self-managed, not provided by “the company” or even Mom and Dad. Salaries as we have known them are likely to be less reliable than one’s ability to create income solutions.
Our job is to help kids prepare for a world we can barely imagine, whether that means helping the 10-year old consider himself as a freelance animator or suggesting teens become experts in anything. Adaptability, flexibility, and entrepreneurial attitude will be hallmarks of kids well prepared for the brave new world flying at them.
A version of this article appeared in the March 2010 edition of our client publication.