The critics have it wrong. Generation Y will emerge from this economy ready for the world.
The knock on Generation Y is of course that they are burdened with an unrealistic sense of entitlement. They’ve grown up being told that they are wonderful and they are going to be rich and famous and that soon everyone will recognize how special they are. This has set them up to fail spectacularly, even as they’re driving us grown-ups to distraction with demands for flexible work schedules and more constructive feedback.
This is all the worst kind of generalization. I am increasingly optimistic about Gen Y and the future that lies ahead for these impressive young adults. As the global economy strengthens, I think we’re going to see this new generation of professionals finally establish themselves in productive careers and in the process, breathe new life into the workplace and Canadian society in general.
Three reasons I’m so hopeful:
1. They’ve learned what it means to struggle
Both professionally and economically. The unemployment rate among young Canadians is roughly double that of the national average and it’s been that way since before the financial crisis. Our 2012 Sun Life Canadian Health Index study found that 90% of Canadians aged 18 to 24 were experiencing at least one source of excessive stress, and that personal finances and work are among the top drivers. (Watch for the results of our 2013 study next week.) If it’s true that tough times are part of what makes a generation great, then clearly Gen Y has the potential to be exactly that.
2. They’re entrepreneurial by necessity
The difficulty so many of these kids have had breaking into their careers of choice has driven them to take risks and be creative about how they make their living. Many have launched businesses or gone freelance. Many more have patched together contract and part-time work to make ends meet, and still found time to do work to get ahead in their chosen field. Sometimes for free. Canada needs a stronger entrepreneurial spirit; we might well find it in Gen Y.
3. They’re committed capitalists
Those of us who grew up during the Cold War will remember that flirting with socialism was practically a rite of passage for large numbers of 20-somethings. That was true of just about every generation, right up until mine (Gen X). When I meet young adults today, I see almost no evidence of this. Certainly the Occupy Movement had its day, but that failed to make any mainstream impact. Gen Y has grown up in a world that is actively embracing capitalism and western culture in general. I think this has been liberating in an important way.
I raise all this because of a sharp piece of writing that appeared on the Wait But Why blog last week. Why Generation Y Yuppies are Unhappy is witty and insightful. It suggests a fourth reason to watch out for Gen Y — they can write circles around the rest of us.
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