I don’t know why I read internet comment boards. Logically I know only a deranged fool would waste their precious minutes on Earth skimming through the comment section of news articles. The completely illogical part of my brain sometimes overwhelms my better judgement however, and consequently I end up scrolling down to see “what others are thinking”. For some reason this bad habit really kicks up when it comes to reading stories about today’s Canadian youth.
In case you’ve been living under a rock you might have noticed that Canada’s young people are having a rough go of it lately. We have more student debt than our folks, houses cost way more, our unemployment is stubbornly above 14%, and for some reason we’re getting associated with the phrases “hipster” and “YOLO”. This is not good.
A Little Help?Now you might expect our parents’ generation to try to fix some of this and help us out. Maybe give us a little constructive criticism mixed in with a solid dollop of advice? Nope, instead my comment boards of doom merely spew forth vile and venom. Apparently if we slackers would merely try a little harder and pull our bootstraps up we’d be all right. Youth can make it in today’s world if they try hard enough, just look at that Zuckerberg guy – they even made a movie about him! I often read things like, “Vinni, Vidi, Vicci – now get off your ass and get out of your parents’ basement”. Um… ok, do you happen to have a gazillion dollars lying around for the down payment on a GTA condo lying around?
But I don’t want to digress too far down this road that leads to generation pity party. I’ve indulged myself on that note before, and it doesn’t really help anyone. The reason I mentioned all of this is to provide some context for one of the other most prevalent lines of attack that is often generated from older people that should know better. For some reason there is this misconception that Canadian youth today don’t need well-paying blue collar jobs or secure government gigs. We can’t get them anyway so I guess it’s good we don’t need them. No, instead our generation is simply supposed to “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps” and use our strengths on these computer thingys to innovate our way into a job. We’re all supposed to be creative, multitasking machines that are full of spirit and energy 24/7.
Fallacy Thy Name Is Generation X
This is insane on so many levels, but I can honestly say that there are many people out there who thoroughly believe this is a reality. I think it is some sort of weird attempt to deflect the guilt older generations feel for burdening the next generation in so many ways. It shifts the blame from people who had ready access to all sorts of jobs and then a country that catered exclusively to them as a voting block over the years, and puts it on these “lazy hipsters who seem to be on their computers too much to trust them – oh, and what is all this YOLO crap anyway?”
Newflash – we can’t all be entrepreneurs and/or work for other start-up companies that are being created by our generation. Sure, we can watch Stephen J’s Princeton address and we can think of Mark Zuckerberg as representative of our generation, but this doesn’t change the harsh realities of becoming an entrepreneur. The truth about starting your own company and actually being able to achieve enough success for you to live off of the profits is that it is extremely difficult. Start-ups have a notoriously high failure rate and this just doesn’t mesh with the needs of today’s young Canadians.
Why Doesn’t Everyone Just Run Their Own Show?
If you consider all the characteristics that are needed to run a profitable small business these days, it isn’t surprising that many don’t make it. Most business owners that I know would agree that today’s entrepreneur must have some unique talents, some real-life experience, be a great communicator, and most of all have the capital/connections to get a new business through the first few lean years (the loan exception to these characteristics might be the technology sector – which requires an extraordinary level of natural talent).
How many people just out of business school match these qualifications? The truth is that young people need time to learn from experience, build connection networks, improve credentials, professionally develop, and build capital before they are ready to innovate. Of course at that point many are not so young any more.
Sure, there are outliers. Some people will point to internet-based companies that made it or one or two other examples that they erroneously believe are representative of the broader context. The obvious reality to most young people is that starting your own business requires a large amount of risk at a time when few believe they can take on any more large financial variables in their life. While some might propose that the best time to take risks in your life is when you’re young, this is balanced against the reality that young Canadians wake up to every morning. One in which houses are more expensive than ever before, student debt loads are rapidly increasing, and the security blanket of having a humming economy to bank on if your start-up collapses is non-existent. Young Canadians who do take on the risks associated with entrepreneurship should be commended and a fair number of them will be rewarded, but it can’t possibly be one of the main long-term solutions for youth unemployment, and to suggest so is fairly naïve in my opinion.
Ignoring the Real Problem
Instead, I will continue to shout from the mountain tops that a much better strategy to counteract youth unemployment is to communicate the market realities concerning certain parts of skilled labour, and perhaps just as importantly the new reality of having to be mobile in flowing to where the jobs are in Canada. The skills mismatch has been getting some publicity in Canada, but we need it to filter down into our schools and young people (almost none of whom watch the news I can assure you). An even more glaring reality of miscommunication surrounds the attitude of mobility within Canada however, but that is likely a topic for another day.
Before young Canadians have the skills, knowledge, connections and money to become successful entrepreneurs it is destructive to suggest that this should be a main pillar of a long term plan. Can we please collectively begin to address reality instead of repeating clichéd/ignorant mantras?