Jobs and Today's Youth

08/27/2010 11:07 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In my last book and in subsequent speeches and essays, I have addressed some of the challenges of incorporating today's young people into established businesses. With unemployment rates among America's youth currently around 20%, and many recent college graduates working at low-end jobs, it seems appropriate to revisit the issue.

The trigger for my newsletter earlier this month appeared in the Chicago Tribune, in which a front page story, "Are students, parents too connected?", asserts that many parents may well be hindering the independence of their teen-aged or young adult offspring.

Today's young adults, whom I will define as between the ages of 18 to 30, have certain skills and abilities that we did not possess at this age -- primarily those pertaining to computer technology. However, it is generally well established that they lack the analytical reasoning skills, self-confidence, and language skills both of earlier generations and of competitors for jobs who come from other countries. These are key factors in business success!

Yet, perhaps even more significantly, today's young adults lack the emotional and psychological maturity expected for people their age. The sensitivity, emotional neediness, and lack of confidence of young people hurts them in the workplace.

My generation, the "boomers," benefited from a relatively unusual combination of opportunity and freedom during our childhood and early adult years. As children, it was not uncommon for 8 or 9 year olds to leave on their bikes on a summer morning not to return home until the dinner hour. The intervening hours would be filled playing ball, fishing, playing games or just thinking.

Frequently days were highlighted by squabbles -- "I was safe!", or "Why won't you trade Boardwalk for Marvin Gardens and $500?" -- and at times these arguments even escalated into fights. In the process we learned to manage time, prioritize interests, deal with different types of people, and to handle disputes. We learned how to be on our own -- and to succeed on our own -- and to stand up for ourselves. There were no play dates and no arbitrators for disputes. Moreover, when we were in trouble in school, parents took the teachers' side, not the child's. Today, children do not have the freedom we had.

As we matured we encountered a higher education system that welcomed us. It became common place for boomers of varied races, classes and interests to attend college. When we graduated and entered "white-collar" careers in the 1970s or 1980s, we found tremendous opportunity in a burgeoning economy that offered great entry-level salaries and possibilities for rapid advancement. The immediately preceding and succeeding generations did not have the same combination of independence and opportunity.

Parents of boomers had to deal with the Depression, World War II, and limited educational opportunities. They grew up with a fair degree of independence, but did not have the nurturing and educational support that we had. Today's young people have all the nurturing any person could reasonably tolerate. But the K-12 educational system they have passed through is a national embarrassment and colleges today, in trying to compensate for twelve years of educational mediocrity, are frustrated by helicopter parents and the immaturity of the students.

This comes back to the lack of independence today's young adults had as children. They never had the chance to plan their own days, umpire their own games, resolve their own arguments, and overcome adversity on their own. Every blow has been softened, every opportunity has been polished--but, many are still children at age 30. The Tribune blames text-messaging and other technological advances for making college students, hundreds of miles from home, connected to Mom and Dad. But, this technology can be overcome with a change in attitude. Some young adults experience a different upbringing. Often, first or second generation children of immigrants apply their broader sense of the world and other cultures to take advantage of opportunities to try, fail, try again, and succeed.

Some young adults are taking risks to earn income and contribute to their college fund. But, perhaps even greater independence is shown by those young people who, eschewing the high unemployment here, are heading overseas to find jobs, life experience, and freedom. Knowing some young adults who established independence from their parents makes me hopeful that eventually they will improve our society. I encourage young adults to travel and even work in other countries to meet people who are "different" and start learning what and who is shaking the globe.