Fun work, if you can get it
CHICAGO For years, employers have been saying that they are increasingly worried it will soon be next to impossible to find skilled, talented employees to hire. I bet recent reports on college students and young workers inspired some serious hang-wringing.
To start, the ACT’s annual “Condition of College and Career Readiness” report was released and this year’s bottom line is that prospects for success in those two realms are low. Fifty-two percent of America’s graduating seniors took the ACT, and a full 60 percent met no more than two of the four benchmarks—English, mathematics, reading and science—for readiness, while 28 percent didn’t meet any of them. Only one-quarter of those tested met all four benchmarks, the same as last year.
These numbers coincide with data to be published in the upcoming book, “Generation on a Tightrope: A Portrait of Today’s College Student,” by Arthur Levine and Diane Dean. Through national surveys, campus visits and one-on-one interviews, Levine and Dean found that 45 percent of undergraduates have taken remedial courses.
Yet 60 percent of students believe that their grades undervalue the true quality of their work, which is perfectly logical in light of the fact that we’re talking about a generation who grew up in an everyone-gets-a-trophy society where the single most important thing in life was to ensure children’s high self-esteem.
A whopping 41 percent of them have average grades of A-minus, compared to 7 percent for students in 1969. A scant 9 percent earn C’s or lower, compared to 25 percent in 1969. Basically, in a country where there’s nothing more feared than being merely “average,” these grade-grubbing students and their ultra-demanding helicopter parents have managed to drive grade inflation to new heights.
The numbers the two authors present in their book tell the story: 76 percent of colleges and universities report increases in parent involvement and intervention, and 27 percent of undergraduates asked parents to intervene in problems with professors or employers. Yes, their employers.
Such is life today. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that more and more companies are bending over backward to meet the demands of these new Generation Y workers—Levine and Dean painted a portrait of them as coddled and entitled—who will comprise more than 40 percent of the workforce by 2020.
The hoops that companies are jumping through range from guaranteeing promotions within a year—lest employees get burned out with the now-antiquated methods of paying your dues and rising through the ranks—to putting programs in place to make the workplace more fun.
No surprise there. This generation’s entire academic career was spent being told that learning had to be fun—so why wouldn’t it be their boss’ responsibility (perhaps in concert with some helpful tips from mom?) to ensure that employees today feel nurtured and fun-focused during the workday?
Employers, I’m not trying to ruin your day, but you’ve got your work cut out for you: Even with unemployment at historical highs for young people, a 2011 survey by Cisco found that 56 percent of the 21- to 29-year-olds polled said they’d turn down a job offer if they were told that going on social media wasn’t allowed between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
In the world of work, it is indeed a whole new day. Have fun!
Esther Cepeda is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.