Recently, I finished a job as a youth employment program coordinator in western Washington state. Overseeing programs that served more than 500 youths ages 14 to 24, I learned about the realities facing young workers.
Many people agree that the number of jobs open to young people is unacceptable. However, we haven’t explained why that is the case. After working with employers, youth, schools, and with organizations committed to connecting those parties to each other, I have come to understand that a large part of the problem is that adults constantly lie to young people, either inadvertently or intentionally.
Here are five lies employers tell the young:
Lie #1: There are jobs available for you. In 2010, youth unemployment in the U.S. topped out at 19.6 percent. Last year, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the rate of jobless youth had inched down to 16.3 percent. A comparison of 16.3 percent with the historical average of 12.32 percent since 1955, and a low point of 7.8 percent in 1956, shows that the youth job market still has a long way to recovery. The Federal Reserve has said that in the 2008-2014 recession, adult workers took jobs the young had held for the previous decade.
Lie #2: Employers believe in you. Generally youth today go into a hostile job market. Employers neither see the young as assets nor do they treat them as valuable employees once they are on board.
Once seen as the future, young workers in 2014 are interchangeable parts in an employment machine that disrespects them. The reality of discrimination against young people is that the very same young people who are prohibited from entering into stores in groups of two or more are being hired to staff those stores, while those store owners continue to take young consumers’ money.
Lie #3: Schools are changing to make you more employable. Politicians and parents want desperately to believe that all of the work to reform education today is designed to benefit students. However, large corporations in the education business are lining their pockets like never before.
Charter schools, testing, teacher mastery programs, and many more arrows point in this direction, and none of it has to do anything with students’ hireability. Instead, school reform is largely motivated by profit and power, thinly veiled by “concern” for students’ well-being.
Lie #4: You just need to pull your jeans up and take the jobs we give you. I have heard many employers say, “If only a young person would come in here with a good haircut, their pants pulled up, and no tattoos showing, I’d give them a job in a minute!” The reality belies the beneficent statement: Most employers don’t believe hiring young people benefits them, so they don’t do it. If they do, it’s usually under such poor conditions for such little pay that it doesn’t justify the work it took for that youth to find the job.
Lie #5: Things have always been this way, and they’ll always be this way. Change is coming. It can’t get here fast enough for many youth, and the reality is that there’s a spreading “maker movement” that’s luring more young people than ever to become entrepreneurs. Many people believe this is the antidote to the lies we’ve told the young.
Young people build, devise, plan, scheme, strategize, and map like never before. Millennials move fast. Today’s young people move even faster. The masses, mobilized by ability and access, speed economic transformation like never before.
Seven ways the future will be different
Hope for the future rests in the partial truth on which stands the fifth lie adults tell youth. Creating their futures by working with supportive adults—including parents, educators, youth workers, and others—young people make the future they want. It’s not a utopia or grandiose vision that young people work towards, and I’m not advocating that only youth create this future. I am suggesting that we all work together towards a realistic future that works for everyone.
Here are seven ways the future will be different.
1. Engaging—The future will engage anyone, anywhere they want to be engaged. This will happen at home, schools, throughout communities, in government, and the economy.
2. Connecting—As we gather together more intentionally both online and in-person, we’ll see an increased appreciation of the commons, the public spaces we share, in bold, bright new ways. More than ever, young people will be recognized as central to the health and well-being of the commons.
3. Empowering—Instead of isolated incidents empowering a few people, everyone will acquire increasing ability and authority throughout their lives. All people will become more educated, engaged, and empowered.
4. Cooperating -Seeing the economic and social benefits of stronger relationships with everyone around us, we will become more cooperative. This more intense cooperation will benefit everyone. The ways we work together will be better known, and the importance of all human interaction will be more deeply felt. Everyone will learn how to cooperate better.
5. Processing—Today the constant emphasis on outcomes often overwhelms people. Tomorrow new attention will be given to adding more services to processes, such as travel. More services will increase the pleasure of getting there, rather than just arriving.
6. Diversifying—More interdependent cultures will elevate social conditions affecting more people, thus generating even more integration.
7. Liberating—Freed from the shackles of offices and bosses, people will feel capable of living easily, moving quickly, and congregating freely with persons they’re genuinely interested in, rather than stuck with.
The workplace is bound to become more embracing, more honest, and more hopeful because youth are making the world they want to live in. Adults should do no less than empower them to make this future with us.
Adam Fletcher speaks on engaging people in business, education, and communities. He is also the author of several books, including “Ending Discrimination Against Young People.” Learn more about him by visiting his website, Facebook, Twitter, or his blog. A version of this article first appeared on LinkedIn.