Graduation is an exciting time. It signals an end to one phase of life and transition to another. Most of us probably have cherished memories of the excitement of having the world at our feet and being ready to make our mark. In the best of circumstances, it is a time of leaving behind the last vestiges of childhood and beginning one’s professional adventure. However, in the dark days of the downturn, many are finding that the transition is not as sweet as it used to be. For all but a special few, it is a time of frustration and even disenchantment.
The class of 2012 is finding that timing can make a big difference in realizing dreams. Although unemployment is lowest among those with a college degree, it is highest among those under 24 years of age. To put it in context, unemployment almost reaches more than 15 percent for job seekers 20 to 24 years of age. Moreover, the “stickiness” of the current level of unemployment continues similar to the trend starting in 2010 and is unlikely to change in the next 12 to 24 months (http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2011/12/01/143016866/unemployment-falls-to-8-6-percent).
How has the downturn affected recent graduates over the last five to six years? About half of graduates since 2006 are without either employment or underemployed in their current positions. Some surveys estimate that as many as 20 percent of recent graduates are looking for some form of full time employment. Similarly, only approximately 30 percent of recent graduates indicate they are working in their chosen career. It is safe to assume that some portion of the remaining 50 percent is underemployed while working for low skill, service sector jobs. Basically, a generation of potential employees continues to wait in a holding pattern frozen in time.
What does mean for our future employees?
It is likely that the years of uncertainty will further diminish the idea of the traditional employee-employer contract. Looking back one day, the economic downturn may be characterized as the final death nail of employee loyalty. Once hired, these employees will have seen the impact of turmoil, lived with extended uncertainty, and recognize that an employee needs to be self-guided and motivated.
Outcome: reinforce the transient nature of the labor market between organizations as opportunities present themselves.
Experience of the last four years will diminish the once growing perception that “things have nowhere to go but up” or overly positive outlooks. A whole generation of young managers and employees alike assumed that the downturn was temporary or even a minor correction since those economic adjustments made up the domain of their experience. The impact of the economic downturn will stay with current graduates throughout their careers and temper their perspectives and decisions.
Outcome: change in risk profile and future slowdown responses.
Commitment to Alternatives
The classic pattern of seeking non-career centered endeavors after retirement has been changing in the last several decades. It has become increasingly acceptable to change careers, alter course in the middle years, and move to something more engaging, challenging, or fulfilling. The flexibility practiced by this cohort to deal with current economic realities should accentuate this trend. New entrepreneurial as well as socially conscience enterprises should become more common in response to the generational characteristics coupled with the results of the downturn.
Outcome: leaving to pursue outside of career interests will be more of an option.