Young people in Zimbabwe work differently to the patterns that were the norm for their parents. The basic reason for this is that times have changed and we have scrambled to keep up and make a living as best we can whilst not sacrificing our passions and ambitions. Those last two bits are especially important, given that we witnessed the global financial meltdown and realised that the house of cards can come tumbling down very quickly. And so, if you’re going to do it, you might as well struggle for something you sort of enjoy.
But our unfamiliar labour patterns have earned us condescending nicknames the world over. We are often referred to us as the “me, me, me” generation, just one aspect of allegations leveled against millennials. Among other things, we are apparently incredibly selfish, lazy and entitled. Welcome to millennial bashing; a past time that Generation X especially loves to indulge in.
We are called ‘lazy’ and ‘entitled’. Sure, we do not necessarily have single-salary paying jobs and even if we do, that is not all we do. Actually, many of us have several balls in the air all at once: an interesting blend of projects -volunteer or otherwise- that somehow make a coherent work portfolio. We do what we need to do to stay afloat, but this is often interpreted as a lack of focus.
Newsflash: Jobs Don’t Grow on Trees
But that is public knowledge. So when we are done being accused of being lazy, the ‘entitled’ crowd comes along advocating vapid platitudes, alleging that our asking for jobs and sound economic policy amounts to feelings of entitlement. We are infantilised yet denied the basic circumstances that would make it possible for us to fully perform our adulthood. Millennials cannot win.
Now, the part that gets me the most is when these accusations are leveled against an entire generation without taking into account the context in which we are trying to build livelihoods. Nobody needs to be told about how the Zimbabwean economy has been chugging along, coughing and spluttering, ever since the World Bank’s disastrous restructuring plan that failed to deliver on promises of massive economic growth in the early 90s. Neither do I need to detail the last almost two decades where the economy was essentially in free fall.
It’s hard out here for a Millenial
But we seem to enjoy forgetting that a harsh economic climate will affect the earning power of people attempting to enter the job market. We’ll focus on how businesses are crippled by issues of fluidity but will skip out on the bits about how that affects their ability to hire new and inexperienced workers as well as how that affects our bargaining positions. For a country that claims to be grounded in scientific socialism, the failure of mainstream comments to hone in on the labour issues affecting the youth – which extends beyond lack of employment, is highly problematic.
We need to have a discussion about how claims to “youth empowerment” mean nothing, and do nothing for me if you’re constantly having some kind of rant about how the young are just useless people and will not ever amount to much. There are several problems with this stance. We forget the complicity of past generations in creating the mess in which we find ourselves today. This extends beyond issues of governance. It is not okay for us to continue to point at government as though they were sitting in our board rooms, running our businesses on a daily basis.
Dear Generation X: You Need to Account for Your Crippling Greed
You need to recognise that you were entirely complicit in the greed that brought the global economy to its knees and left us all reeling. You need to start thinking about retribution for your looting in the past and at present, also for any kind of looting plans you have in the woodwork. Yes, we saw you siphon away money to other countries in order to prop up your lifestyles. The fact of the matter is, it is we the millennials who are currently carrying the burdens and paying the price for the works of your hands. Then you have the audacity to come and criticise the way we are still pushing to structure our lives? Please!
We Don’t Need More Education
Also, just stating that we need more education is misleading. Yes, our syllabi need updating to meet global standards, etc. But for the youth now on the job market, a lack of education isn’t the issue. Unlike back in the day where a university degree meant that not only could you stroll into work, but actually work would come looking for you, nowadays a degree is at best a guarantee that in many sectors you can start having a conversation about looking for work. Entry level work is scarce and hard to come by, so we’ve all started trying to collect degrees like it’s going out of style in order for us to be able to compete for whatever jobs do happen to come up.
Also because of a large graduate pool, and because some people who do have experience are out of work, under-employment is a big problem. To illustrate the nature of this issue consider this: if you have a law graduate applying for a job as a secretary, what sort of jobs are secretarial candidates likely to start applying for?
So what needs to happen? Well firstly, all millennials need to pat themselves on the back for keeping up the hustle despite the constant criticism. Then, as a society we need to understand that given that millennials are the ones leading the charge in terms of adapting to the new ways of the world, perhaps we need to start taking youth seriously? Quite frankly, if the older generations were really omniscient, we wouldn’t be in this mess. Evidence suggests that non-millennials are neither truly fit to govern nor do they have a productive opinion given the destructiveness of decisions they have made in the past few decades.
Clearly, there are knowledge gaps. Clearly there are things that people are incapable of fixing or simply refuse to fix. Youth empowerment needs to start with listening to the youth, finding out where we are and what skills you might have to potentially impart to us. Because yes mentorship is a thing, but you do not possess all of the good knowledge in all the world. Telling us to “get up and do something” without creating an environment free from nepotism, in order to make it possible doesn’t help us. Requiring that we either work for free, or lack any work experience amounts to exploitation. We deserve better.
We are not lazy for not working like you: we are resourceful. Understand that millennials are not scroungers, we are survivors in a brave new world.
Main Photograph taken from www.theroot.com