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Generation Y Business

Something is troubling me. There is a disconnect between how young adults believe the world should be and how it is. This gap does not exist because Generation Y has an overly romanticised notion of how society should operate – bread and peace for all. In fact the opposite is true.  They are aware that life is tough, that thanks to a Credit Crunch they did not cause young Britons are going to be the most indebted in history. Generation Y knows they will have to work into their 70s, not be able to afford a home until their 40s and be a net contributor to the welfare state. They have every right to be frustrated and angry about the world which was given to them.

Young people rioting

Am I troubled by the potential for social disorder? No. Instead of protesting Generation Y are professionalising. They are thinking about what they need to do to succeed against their peers.  As the Economist observed: “Just as the construction of the post-war welfare state helps to explain the collectivist instincts of old, today’s economic adversity and dwindling welfare payments appear to be forging a generation of dogged individualists.” There is a sort of Wild West frontier mentality; that they are prepared to take risks to succeed. 80% of 16 – 30 year olds believe they will start their own business in the next five years.

Young person asleep

Am I troubled by the ability of young people to make a better future? No, not in the slightest. Recent research from Demos found that the biggest concern for teenagers is unemployment and access to work. It also found that rather than mopping around, feeling sorry for themselves, teenagers are building up their CVs and getting skills. This is a generation that knows the problem and is prepared to do something positive to counteract it.

What troubles me is that this belief in reward for endeavour, plus individual responsibility, will be smashed when it comes into contact with the working world. As inequality increases social mobility decreases. As the gap between potential earnings between different careers increases it become ever more important to professional parents that their children secure the same lucrative career as them. Last year, as I was strolling through Lincoln’s Inn Fields, I noticed that in front of me a smartly dressed women was coaching her (at a guess) 16 year old son how to impress at an internship interview. He was being told things that they do not teach you in State school, such as the right language to use with lawyers. I don’t blame the lady for wanting what is best for her son, but the bigger picture represented by this moment is that it is becoming harder for those who don’t have access to inside knowledge to place their first foot on the ladder.

Some Libertarian minded folk mistakenly believe that the research into Generation Y shows the young to be anti-State intervention. My reading of the evidence is that they want a different sort of State intervention. The young do not want the Government to concentrate on redistributing wealth, instead the State’s role is to ensure opportunity. The question Generation Y will be asking of George Osborne is not “what will the Government give me?” It’s “what will the Government do to help me succeed?”

 Nick Denys is Head of Digital at Bright Blue. He tweets @betapolitics.