A New Deal for Young People: Creating Better Jobs
What do young people expect from the world of work? Tired tropes about “job applicants” looking for “meaning” are a distraction. Most young people want what their parents and grandparents wanted: a decent income, a chance to grow, and enough security to build a life. The problem is, too few of them get it.
A decade of weak global growth accompanied by economic disasters may be largely responsible for high youth unemployment, slow wage growth and the number of graduates in non-graduate roles. There are also changes in the nature of the work.
The prevalence of concert platforms, unpaid internships, zero hours, agency contracts, and temporary contracts may be overestimated, as they remain a small share of total employment in most developed countries. But they represent an important part of the labor market for young people. In the UK on the eve of the pandemic, one out of ten Workers aged 16 to 24 were on zero-hour contracts, up from 6 percent in 2013. In the euro area, almost half of those under 25 were on temporary contracts.
These arrangements suit some people or provide a stepping stone to something better. Others, especially non-graduates, stick to them for years. Working this way usually means fewer employment rights, less training and little opportunity to save for a pension. It also means to be the first for the chop in a downturn, as many discovered when Covid hit. In the UK, those under 35 accounted for more than 80 percent the drop in the number of employees since last February.
FT Series: A New Deal for Young People
Join us for a series of live debates this week, daily at 2 p.m. BST, on the following FT View editorials and share your own ideas and questions. Free registration
Monday Affordability of housing is an issue in many countries. How to resolve the crisis?
Tuesday How to guarantee a decent pension for today’s young generation. A third way is necessary.
Wednesday Create better jobs: like every generation before them, young people want decent and secure jobs with prospects.
Thursday A reflection on education: who should pay for university studies and what about those who do not?
Friday Young people face a future of environmental destruction. What can be done about it?
Saturday Tax Fairly: Young people today bear the burden of supporting older generations, but benefit much less at the start and end of their working life.
Even those who have stable jobs often feel anxious. They worry about the fierce competition and fear that long working hours and the increasing fallout between work and home life will harm their health and relationships. If young people are to face the future with confidence, they will need three things: more jobs, less insecurity and humane working cultures.
To achieve the former, countries will need a macroeconomic stance that views the cold running of the economy as a greater risk than heating it up. Young people, in particular, are losing a lot of the former, and a difficult start in the labor market casts a long shadow on lifetime incomes and productivity prospects. A tight labor market would lead to more jobs, promotions and wage growth for early career people, with economic spinoffs for all of us.
Second, employers should be discouraged from managing a two-tiered workforce with protected insiders and insecure outsiders. As courts in a number of jurisdictions have found, concert platforms wield too much power over workers to continue to shirk responsibility for them.
Flexibility that works for both employer and employee should be encouraged, but it should not be confused with provisions that stress workers’ flexibility without giving it back. Companies should be required to notify people of their shifts and compensate for last minute changes (New York and Chicago “Fair Work Week” Laws are a model). Internships can be beneficial, but companies that use interns to do real work for months at a time should pay them.
Third, as companies attempt to diversify, they should take seriously what young employees tell them about toxic work cultures, long hours, and the requirement to be “always on”. These generations have grown up with digital technology and are more aware of its risks and possibilities. They have a knack for talking openly about mental health. If we are willing to listen, they might help us save ourselves from ourselves.
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Other editorials and articles in this series are available at ft.com/newdeal