William Pang: It’s up to young adults to take initiative on jobs



I am a high school student at Berkshire School. This essay is about my feelings on the confusing message behind youth employment and the need for young adults to step up and fight for themselves.

I am 17 and I am a part of the group known as Millennial or Generation Y. Some economists label us the "entitled" or "spoiled" generation. Heck, even Will McAvoy, fictional anchor in HBO’s hit series "Newsroom," unapologetically called us "The worst. Generation. Ever."

Yes, we might be the generation of being cuddled and provided for. Parents are financing us from the day we’re born till the day we find a job and get out of their basement. But we are also the ones perusing higher and higher levels of education and servicing mounting debt -- all amid a tough job market where many students are unemployed or working at a job they are overqualified for.

Whenever I talk about jobs, my dad proudly reminds me how he paid for his education through working as an intern in a chemical plant. The work experience he gained landed him a job as soon as he graduated. Youths today face an evolving labor market that hinges upon technological change and globalization of the economy. The youth unemployment rate today is pegged at around 13 percent, with more and more young adults staying in school or discouraged to find work.

The biggest concern, however, is the fact that most of the jobs created since the recession are low-pay, precarious jobs that many university graduates are overqualified for. Numerous reports have projected that retail salespersons and home health aides will see the greatest job growth in the next 15 years. And let’s not forget that American workers have been facing stagnant wages for the last 30 years. Here’s the doom and gloom picture for the future workforce.

One might ask: what are the government, Corporate America and economists saying about the lack of well-paying jobs? The good news is all parties agree that something must be done. The bad news is there is no single, coherent opinion. Corporate America is pointing to the gap in the skilled trades, meaning that we have a lack of electricians, welders, machinists and other blue-collar jobs in the labor market. The Obama administration appears to side with Corporate America and is giving out $600 million toward job training and apprenticeship.


On the flip side, economist Paul Krugman argues the opposite: he thinks that if we do have a skilled trades gap, employers will be offering much higher wages to attract workers of those skills. Other economists point to the gap in the education system and the lack of graduates with sufficient math and science skills.

So here it is. Youth employment (and unemployment) is a complex, multifaceted issue that deserves more attention than John Boehner suing President Obama. Educators, government officials, economists, private corporate employers and students must work together to address youth employment through innovative solutions. The 21st century youth is not a lost generation; it’s one of the most entrepreneurial, tech-savvy group the world has ever seen. So if we do indeed have a skilled-trades gap, we need to ask ourselves how young adults can both entrepreneurs and skilled workers.

But most importantly, the conversation needs to be initiated by young adults, starting from the high school level. The average student won’t go out of his or her way to discuss a politician’s platform on youth employment or figure out complex calculus-based analysis performed by economists. Young adults need to be the ones playing an active role in securing and defining the future of next generation’s workforce, not the other way round. We need to be the ones talking to the corporate sector and the government. We need to be the ones discussing and educating other peers on the challenges in the job market today.

The first step in solving any problem is recognizing that we have to collectively do something about it.


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