Why Grads Should Take a Gap Year
As thousands of students pour into the sluggish job market this spring, news sources are trumpeting dramatic stories of graduates whose dreams have been dashed by the current economy.
First, I suspect most of these stories are written by Boomers (parents of Y’s) who, based on my interviews, are far more distressed by the current events than are most of the Y’s.
Second, let me assure both students and parents that this year’s tight job market is likely to be a small blip on Gen Y’s otherwise positive life trajectory. From a long-term, generational perspective, the recession of 2008-09 will have the least impact on the rosy Y’s than on any other contemporary generation, largely because they had virtually nothing to lose (few had bought homes or begun to invest in 401ks prior to the recession) and will have everything to gain as they begin their asset accumulation period at the bottom of what is likely to be an historic low. Up they’ll go.
Beyond 2009, the reality of the past 20 years of falling birth rates, coupled with the inexorable shift to a higher percentage of knowledge-based jobs, means that there will be good jobs coming available over the next 2-4 years, particularly for the college classes of 2009. Already today, there are over 3 million openings in the U.S. workforce that employers are struggling to fill — most requiring college degrees. The talent gap will only widen as the anticipated rebound in the economy coincides with a substantial slowdown in the availability of new entrants.
Third, from a career perspective, although reporters seem to relish writing stories about the dismal prospects graduates face in 2009, these sad renditions generally omit one important fact — most Y’s were not planning to launch their “careers” right away anyway. As David Brooks wrote in the his New York Times column in 2007, many Y’s look at their 20’s as a time for exploration and experimentation — a time to try out multiple jobs, learn as much as possible, live in new locations for awhile — laying the groundwork for making some more focused choices in their thirties. Brooks called this stage their Odyssey Years.
The implication for employers who can offer interesting work options is that Gen Y’s should remain key hiring and retention targets. Many are willing to trade substantial monetary compensation for significant “experience” — learning, challenge. Make sure you’re offering interesting work accompanied by lots of on-the-job coaching from older colleagues, and you should be able to tap into the best of the best of 2009, even at modest levels of compensation.
The implication for graduates and parents of graduates is, to the extent you can afford to, look at the next year or two as a “gap year” — a time to explore, learn, travel, and test yourself. For many graduates, burned out from four (or more) years of intense study, taking a year to do something less pressured can be a hugely positive experience with great pay-off longer-term. Don’t view your immediate options negatively, as settling for a low paying job because the glamour jobs are not available. Look at your options as a time to get grounded. Find out more about who you really are and what you care about — a gap year to get your groove back.
Looking at the next year or two as a gap year doesn’t necessarily preclude earning some money along the way, but the criteria for your search should, if possible, be weighted toward options that will give you the most exposure and challenge — and perhaps scratch an itch that you’ve wanted to scratch someday — now, while the real career options are more limited.
Our daughter took a year off, a gap year, between high school and college. She spent most of the year doing physically difficult, menial labor on horse farms in South Carolina, as well as riding, competing, and just generally learning how live on her own — dealing with irrational bosses, negotiating with landlords and truck repairmen, and finding how many ways she could stretch a box of pasta into a week’s meals. She also backpacked solo around Europe for a month, leveraging her Euro-rail pass into visits to as many art museums as time would allow, and spent another month on a NOLs program, kayaking in Alaska. Although the choice of activities was uniquely hers, the experience itself is one that I highly recommend to any graduate. Just living in the world, doing manual labor, figuring how to make ends meet, gave her a calm confidence that is palpably different from many of her current college cohorts who raced from high pressured high school classes into the intense college setting. From her perspective, it was such a good experience that she’s looking forward to doing it again, perhaps after college graduation.
Gen Y’s stand to benefit from many fortuitous trends — not the least of which is an extraordinarily long life expectancy. This year may feel like a blow but keep it in perspective — you will have lots of time once the economy picks up. Keep a positive perspective and use this time to your benefit.
What do you think? Gen Y’s, what’s your strategy for the next year? Those of you in corporations, what’s your hiring strategy for Gen Y’s?
As you evaluate your options for this year, I’d like to extend two invitations.
First, I’ll be talking about ways that organizations can use the economic downturn as a golden opportunity to transform talent management approaches in a complimentary webinar, “Preparing for Prosperity: Strategies to Accelerate Growth through Talent.” You can register for this session by clicking on this link.
Second, I’m always happy to offer my perspective on any specific questions about your career or about your corporate practices. You can “Ask Tammy” by clicking on this link.
Go & see the original here, by Tammy Erickson @ Harvard Business Publishing