Career stagnating? You could be part of the “Abandoned Generation”

James Young
Career stagnating? You could be part of the “Abandoned Generation”

The 2008 financial crisis was years in the making. Poor regulation and rampant greed; the big banks and the white-collar elite were riding the crest of a wave. A wave that eventually broke, leaving the financial and employment markets in turmoil.

Almost a decade on the effects are still being felt, and no one is suffering more than those who graduated into the worst UK economy in living memory.

They belong to the Abandoned Generation; a generation of disillusioned 25-34 year olds who feel robbed of a career. 

37% of 25-34 year olds feel their career prospects are “significantly worse” than their parents’

In early February, we conducted a survey across the UK, aiming to understand the level of optimism and satisfaction among the British workforce with regards to their career prospects. What we found was a dramatic peak in discontent among older Millennials.

Compared to previous generations, who benefitted from stronger economies in the 80s and 90s, the UK’s current 25-34 year olds are far less optimistic about their prospects.

A poor start means a poor finish

The first 10 years of employment are the most crucial in defining career success. During this time, young workers experience 70% of their total salary growth, gain vital experience, and cement a career path. 

A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research showed that a weakened economy causes employees to lose out on this fertile training ground.

The report revealed that new graduates were starting their careers at smaller businesses and on lower pay than in previous decades. Those who managed to progress to senior roles and higher salaries were only able to do so by moving between roles more regularly.

Many of these young adults are realising they have fallen victim to the economic climate. Ambitious millennials, denied development opportunities and pushed into lower skilled work, are becoming increasingly aware that they have been left behind.

The Abandoned Generation not limited to the UK

We extended the survey internationally, looking at the sentiment of Millennials elsewhere in Europe and further afield in the Americas.

The results showed large amounts of discontent in France and Spain, compared to a more optimistic outlook in Mexico and Germany. 

In alignment with the findings of the NBER, our study found Millennial career optimism in each nation to be closely linked to the relative strength of the economy.

In the years following the 2008 financial crash, the Spanish job market was in disarray and youth unemployment rates exceeded 50%. Having graduated into one of the harshest economic climates in recent history, 46% of Spain’s young workers believe their prospects to be worse than those of their parents’.

It’s a similar story in France where, again, 46% of 25-34 year olds feel they have poorer career opportunities. The OECD reported in 2016 that the French economy was experiencing a concerning lack of economic growth. At the time, the unemployment rate was 10.2% – the second-highest among G7 nations – compared to just 4.3% over the border in Germany.

By contrast, German respondents are notably positive. Europe’s largest economy is continuing to excel with GDP growing 1.9% in 2016, and unemployment at a 25 year low. This, combined with a relatively low cost of living, means that young workers in Germany already have a high quality of life, and also foresee a prosperous future.

Most optimistic of all respondents though, are millennials in Mexico, with more than 70% believing themselves to be better off than their parents’ generation. The Mexican economy has recovered from the economic crisis that the country experienced in the early 90s, and despite talk of a border wall, net migration from Mexico to the US has actually reversed. More Mexican immigrants are now returning to their homeland to pursue a career in an improved economy, than are leaving to seek employment opportunities in the United States.

Millennials should focus on gaining experience early on

“Early career stages are never going to be pleasant in a poor economy, but you have to roll with the punches”, says Dan Rogers, co-founder of Peakon. “While you’re unlikely to foresee a path to your dream job early on, the key is to gain as much relevant experience as possible.

“You’re better off taking an internship at Google, for example, than a mediocre but higher paid role at an unknown company. Not only do give yourself the opportunity to work your way up, but more importantly, you are learning from the best people in the field.

“As technology continues to disrupt entire industries, the most valuable employees are those who are able to adapt and draw on other experiences. The baby boomer generation may have been able to specialise in one area and work at the same company their whole lives, but businesses these days are far less predictable.

“Take the impact of self-driving car technology on the automotive sector. What was traditionally an industry that relied on the expertise of mechanical engineers, is now being driven by computer scientists. Anyone who’s managed to acquire experience in both areas during their career, is suddenly extremely employable.

“If you currently find yourself two or more years into a role, and you don’t feel like you’re learning or gaining experience, then you should consider leaving (or tell your boss to use Peakon!). If you look at lifetime career earnings, the people who move more frequently do better.”

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