Sunday 23 October 2016

Sarah McCabe: The country is in safe hands with millennials

Published 14/08/2016 | 02:30

Millennials are the product of a unique, unprecedented set of influences that have produced some wonderful collective qualities (Stock picture)
Millennials are the product of a unique, unprecedented set of influences that have produced some wonderful collective qualities (Stock picture)

Millennials get a completely undeserved hard time. The generation aged between 21 and 35, or anybody who came of age around the millennium, is regularly dismissed as over-indulged and entitled.

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Type "why are millennials so..." into Google and the suggestions that appear are "lazy, "stupid", "narcissistic" and "selfish", in that order.

This perception could not be further from the truth.

Ireland's millennials are hard-working, aggressive and creative, and the country will be safe in their hands.

Here's why. Millennials are the product of a unique, unprecedented set of influences that have produced some wonderful collective qualities.

Among these qualities is a close connection with family and community. Multiple authoritative studies have found this generation's primary indicator of success is family, not money.

One of the reasons is that culturally, millennials share far more in common with their parents than the previous generation did with their parents. Children born in the 1950s and 1960s entered adulthood at a time when music, television, societal and sexual norms were changing dramatically. It was a new world and the young people of that era couldn't wait to grow up and get out.

The same wasn't true for millennials. There were no massive cultural and societal leaps forward taking place as we came of age, in contrast to what happened in the 1970s and 1980s, meaning we have more in common with our mums and dads than they did with theirs.

Our two generations get along and millennials have positive relationships with their families.

(It's often assumed that millennials have been culturally separated from our parents by the explosion of the internet but I don't agree - the internet was born in their generation, not ours, and we have both grappled with its growth).

Another characteristic which Irish millennials share is that most of us had access to a very good education.

We grew up during a period of unprecedented, prolonged prosperity, nearly 20 years of peace, economic growth and wealth accumulation.

That prosperity pumped money into the public education system and filled private schools to the gills. Most of today's 21 to 35s went to schools whose resources were expanding, not shrinking. Learning standards crept steadily up and masses of us poured into third level.

It's ironic, then, that we are also the first generation for whom the "education, education, education" mantra proved a fallacy.

Most of us graduated from college just before, in the middle or in the wake of the biggest global recession since the 1920s. Graduate hiring ground to a halt and, coupled the impact of technological change, whole career paths disappeared. Millennials struggled just to stay out of debt between 2008 and 2013.

The economy eventually recovered, but what emerged afterwards was a vastly changed working world, one full of temporary contracts, much smaller starting salaries, unpaid internships and workplaces which place more demands on us than ever before.

Irish millennials had to adapt, rapidly. The recession forced us to readjust our expectations, put in longer hours, cope with lower pay, rent where we once would have bought, spend what we once would have saved. This generation learned the hard way that nothing good comes for free and the path to success requires far more than a fancy-sounding degree.

The recession also made us creative. As the prospect of secure and happy employment in big companies dried up, thousands of millennials opted to make their own luck. Entrepreneurship has rocketed.

The Sunday Independent 30 Under 30 list is full of examples - people like Garret Flower (27), who is on his second successful business, or Chris Lauder (28), co-founder of the Dublin School of Grinds, whose company started life seven years ago with a class of 30 kids and now tutors 3,000 students a week.

Millennials' shared experiences have borne creativity, resilience and an acceptance of hard work, as well as gifted them with a good education and a love of family.

What more could you want?

This generation is more than equipped to make the tough decisions and put in the effort that will steer the country safely through the choppy waters of the next 50 or so years.

Sunday Indo Business

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