Recently I met the chief of a large retail chain who told me that teenagers – his customers! – were “lazy, selfish, wanted to be famous without doing any work and wanted it all on a plate”. He’s still happy to make money out of them though.
He’s not the only industry leader to view today’s teens so harshly. Research published this week shows that persistent negative stereotypes about teenagers are harming their prospects of getting a job. According to think-tank Demos, teens feel their age group is unfairly represented and prevents them from getting work. It’s not just about long-term careers. Sixth-formers trying to fund their studies with part-time work and 16-year-old school-leavers keen to get their first proper job are also unable to find places that they once might have got. As a stereotyped teen might say, this is not cool.
Research proves that many of today’s young people are actually engaged, motivated and desperate to get on. Their passion is impressive, considering the odds stacked against them. The school system keeps changing; schools are underfunded and overcrowded. After seven years of chaos, many 18-year-olds still want to go to uni, go to work and give back to society. I can’t see many privileged industry leaders feeling the same way after all that. Like Mr Retail Chief, they have no appreciation for these teens’ tenacity or circumstances.
Let’s turn this situation around by joining the dots between education and industry. We need formal programmes where employers get into schools to understand and encourage young people. Teachers should broadcast pupils’ good work to businesses. Teens should present to chief executives and boards across the country to talk about their ambitions, their challenges and what they’re actually like. If you work and you care about this, get involved with the i’s Back to School campaign, which helps people from all trades and professions to return to their old state schools to give real-life career advice.
Oh, and kids – next time you fancy spending your cash on the high street, why not email the chief executive of your favourite shop first, to ask what they think about you and your peers? If they’re not giving you work because they think you’re lazy, you certainly don’t need to give them your money.