How can you share the productive atmosphere and emotional good health of a place of Ho‘ohana workfulness (like yours)?
We have a problem and I am asking for your help.
This week’s BusinessWeek feature is one I find affecting me quite deeply. It is called The Lost Generation, and it speaks of a growing, and critical concern: The unemployment scarring of our recent graduates and youth.
Bright, eager—and unwanted. While unemployment is ravaging just about every part of the global workforce, the most enduring harm is being done to young people who can’t grab onto the first rung of the career ladder.
Affected are a range of young people, from high school dropouts, to college grads, to newly minted lawyers and MBAs across the developed world from Britain to Japan. One indication: In the U.S., the unemployment rate for 16- to 24-year-olds has climbed to more than 18%, from 13% a year ago.
For people just starting their careers, the damage may be deep and long-lasting, potentially creating a kind of “lost generation.”
If you are just now hearing of this, preview the 6 minute video for an overview, and think about this statistic: 46% of those aged 16 ”“ 24 in the U.S. population do not have jobs ”“ this is their lowest level of employment since records were kept in 1948.
This is not the generational shift we were expecting
We need not go too far back in our memory to recall some of the things we worried about before the recessionary economy became this black cloud smothering everything, tossing all else aside into the land of the unimportant and forgotten. One of those things was the aging of the Boomer generation, not yet ready to retire, but also growing in their impatience for some second act that would reinvent old notions of retirement and give them the good life they yearned for. We (I’m a Boomer too) were tired, and we wanted to get off the daily treadmill we’d long been on. Back then, we worried that we would not have a younger, fresher workforce numerous enough to replace the experience and talent drain to come.
It is shocking to me that we now ignore the very same youth we had placed our hopes upon just four or five short years ago.
Equally important, employers are likely to suffer from the scarring of a generation. The freshness and vitality young people bring to the workplace is missing. Tomorrow’s would-be star employees are on the sidelines, deprived of experience and losing motivation.
We must do something, and act quickly.
As the days of October tick by, we have recent graduates who have now been unoccupied ”“ no longer in school, and without the jobs they’d hoped for ”“ for anywhere from five to twenty-two months, some longer. What are they doing besides passing time?
In far too many cases, the answer is, “Nothing.”
They are not learning to join the ranks of the “gainfully employed” or “productively occupied” or “newly accomplished” adults who they should be replacing.
Hawai‘i business, large and small, profit and non-profit, struggling and prosperous, I beseech you to get involved in this issue and do something about it.
If you cannot afford to hire (and I know most of you feel you can’t right now) get more creative. Replace “can’t hire” with “can somehow productively engage.” Open your workplaces and give our youth something to do, and a place in which they can feel valued as they continue to learn, and graduate from school into society.
A few quick ideas:
- Incorporate payment by sales commission into your business model
- Package your out-sourcing in small task bundles you can offer to college career counselors to pass on to their graduates
- Design an internship program
- Create a volunteer army
- Sponsor a series of community clean-up weekends
- Offer free “this would be your training if you worked here” classes in the evenings when your normal operations shut down, and propose they adapt lessons learned in class project initiatives
- Offer a real-life option to enrolling in an MBA program: Illustrate how fledgling entrepreneurs can serve you, by designing challenges enterprising solos can fulfill for you
- Mentor mastermind groups or provide a place (and ear) for “ready-to-work and still looking” groups to huddle and support each other
I know you can think of more.
A word on Legality; it is not our biggest barrier
“Free-market economists favor removing obstacles to employment of the young, such as high minimum wages. “The government in some ways is contributing to this problem,” says Kristen Lopez Eastlick, senior research analyst for the employer-backed Employment Policies Institute. She points out that the 40% hike in the federal minimum wage over the past two years made it less appealing to hire young workers.”
While the BusinessWeek feature does mention formidable barriers to entry, such as the minimum wage, I am writing this to you today because I truly believe that our stuck thinking is the biggest barrier: We must wake up to this issue, and be willing to get personally involved with more creative solutions. We can affect the changes we need to see happen.
Be generous, be creative, and be brave. If you have any “yeah-but” legal concerns to throw at me, I really don’t want to hear them. Ho‘ohana: Make this happen.
Most of the laws we in business use as “but we can’t” justifications are the excuses of laziness, mental efforts out to lunch, or a shirking of moral responsibility. Many of the laws we worship are way behind the times, having been on the books for years before this recession (and before our “Lost generation” was even born). If we are to survive with a healthier society, we cannot allow archaic laws to stop us.
This is not a legal problem, but a moral and human problem. I am not saying to break the law, but damn right, I am saying get smart and work around perceived legal hurdles instead of simply shrugging your shoulders and saying you can’t. And I daresay that the good people within our legal system have far better battles to fight that against an employer who is doing what he or she can to better engage with the generation representing society’s hope for the future.
One more thing: Be pono. I am not proposing sneaky loopholes taken by recessionary opportunists either. Keep your ethics in check, and if you can afford to compensate people you better do so ”“ it’s the right thing to do.
October 19th: An update and point of clarity:
I have been asked via an email response to this posting how I personally feel about the minimum wage issue brought up in the BusinessWeek feature, and I think I should clarify this section with my response being posted here as well.
My feeling, within my State of Hawai‘i frame of reference, and in light of the cost of living here, is that the minimum wage should not be dropped and is still too low. While I appreciate (and personally deal with) the fact that we struggle with operating in a State infamous for its entrepreneurial expense and difficulty (both legal and governmental), business people have to get smarter about creating cash flow and looking at costs other than wages. If your compensation levels do not give people a good standard of living, your business model is broken, flawed in a very basic way. That said, we do people no favors if we hand out money: I believe in the wisdom of the parable which says, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” (Ref: Values, Principles, and now, Virtue)
What I ask in this posting, is that you think about the largesse within the word compensation IF you feel that affecting equitable wage levels is presently outside your circle of influence. I use the word compensation and not wages similar to how I feel Ho‘ohana is much, much larger than job and career.
Sense of [Work] Place
I started by asking, How can you share the productive atmosphere and emotional good health of a place of Ho‘ohana workfulness?
Remember: Ho‘ohana [our Hawaiian value of work] is not just about ‘job.’ Ho‘ohana is about worthwhile work being done, whether you are compensated for your work monetarily or in another way.
If you are now employed, focus for a moment on everything you might enjoy about your situation: What good surrounds you in your place of work? Who are you able to meet, talk story with, and otherwise engage with? What are you able to learn, just by merit of being there, soaking up the atmosphere that a workplace is so vibrantly and dynamically charged with?
These are the seemingly intangible things that we who now are blessed with work enjoy in our Sense of Workplace. We take these things for granted, not realizing just how much they add to our well-being. Ask anyone who has lost their job recently, and they will describe what they miss to you in very vivid terms. These workplace benefits are the spirit-boosters, motivators, and sense of belonging fortifiers that our unemployed Lost Generation is missing out on, and they do not need a full-time, fully compensated job in the traditional or conventional sense to feel some of it.
I know, that you know how to share this if you give it more thought.
Why is this a management post?
Regular readers know that I post on management issues each Thursday. I feel this as a perfect fit and not an exception. This is both a leadership and management issue (we have said that leadership creates energy, and management channels it), but it is something that great management needs to make a breakthrough with, particularly in larger organizations where there is a titular distinction between the managers and the leaders.
Preferring to look at them as action verbs (as you know I do): Management makes room in existing systems and processes within a business for leadership ideas to find fertile ground in which they can seed, take root, and flourish.
This is an issue in which great managing must open doors to possibility, and be willing to toss out the old way in favor of the new. Many times, leaders hesitate to rock the hold management has on the boat, and that is especially true today, when many businesses have become more streamlined than they ever imagined they could be.
Come on Alaka‘i managers: Let’s do this, and rock our own boat. If there was ever a time for Hawai‘i to lead the way as we often say we can, it is right now.