A young woman I know did everything right in high school, got into a good private college, and landed a position in corporate marketing for a major retail chain after she graduated. While it was a good, stable job—the kind that makes parents happy—she found it stultifying and unsatisfying.
With a solid academic pedigree and good experience, she hit the job market to look for a more fulfilling career. Several months into her search, she was floundering despite a solid job market in Boston. She wasn’t sure why.
This situation is typical of those faced by millennials I talk to. This woman’s job quest mirrors a unique phenomenon of this generation: an obsession with passion and a misunderstanding of its currency in the job market.
It’s time all stakeholders — employees, business leaders, government officials, and educators — have a serious discussion about how the nation can create better jobs for the next generation.
Wal-Mart has been getting good press recently for its decision to raise its associates’ wages to a minimum of $9 per hour. And it should. So should the unions and community groups that have been pressuring the U.S. retailer to do just that. They also deserve some of the credit for exposing Wal-Mart’s low wages, reliance of associates on food stamps and other public assistance, anti-union tactics, and bottom of the industry ratings on customer service and employee satisfaction.
We’ve all heard the message from our parents: If you work hard, get a good education, and play by the rules, you will do well in life. Baby boomers like me were able to turn that formula into the American Dream.
But while we were able to graduate from high school, vocational school programs, or college into an economy that was growing and providing us with great opportunities, we cannot make the same promise to our children and grandchildren today. Instead of hope, the nation faces a widening economic divide; according to Gallup and other surveys, a majority of Americans agree that the U.S. has been going in the wrong direction for at least a decade, and they expect thenext generation will have a lower standard of living than ours.
Is this gloomy outlook inevitable? Have the global economy, ever-advancing technology, and other forces left us with no control over the destiny of future generations? Only if we choose to do nothing. Reversing course is possible, but it will take a cross-generational effort by baby boomers and next-generation leaders to negotiate what I call a New Social Contract that fits and works with the features of the future economy and workforce.
Thomas Kochan is the George Maverick Bunker Professor of Management, a Professor of Work and Employment Research and Engineering Systems, and the Co-Director of the MIT Sloan Institute for Work and Employment Research at the MIT Sloan School of Management.