20-somethings meet the new new economy
An MBA is laid off on the first day of work, an idealist nearly loses her car, and a dotcomer seeking stability says, 'Give me a bureaucracy!'
Last spring, recruiters the kind boasting five-figure signing bonuses and hosting tailgate parties under tents showed up at Drew Snow's school, practically handing him plum job offers.Skip to next paragraph
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He and his four housemates graduated from Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business in May with high-salaried investment-banking, high-tech, and consulting jobs.
But coveted as their jobs were Mr. Snow and his friends didn't plan to keep them. Each had ambitious plans to spend a year or two building up some experience and then to move on to someplace even more impressive, says Snow.
A year and a recession later, their fat paychecksand grand plans have given way to unemployment checks and revised career paths.
"Five of us shared a house together. All five of us graduated with these amazing jobs. One of us is still employed," says Snow. One of his Dartmouth housemates received a layoff notice minutes into the first morning of his new job.
This nation's 20-something workers were hit hard by the recession of 2001.
A 25-year-old in the workforce today grew up in a boom economy, was in junior high when the last recession ended, and entered the job market at the height of high-tech frenzy, when unemployment for workers under 25 was as low as 6 percent. Suddenly the recession hit, and unemployment rocketed. During the first quarter of 2002, unemploy- ment rocketed. During the first quarter of 2002, unemployment has averaged nearly 10 percent for the under-25 group.
"We're horribly skewed we think amazing is normal," says Stephanie Boraas, a 20-something economist with the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Her assessment is that maybe her generation needed its expectations of the job market tempered by a little hardship.
Indeed, as the dotcom arrogance burns off and the dust of the recession settles, young workers and economists themselves are learning some valuable lessons.
In the heyday of high-tech and dotcom, today's 20-somethings were notorious for their "free agent" mentality. They accepted and abandoned jobs as though they didn't owe anybody anything, complained older workers and employers. But as the past year's layoffs have shown, many companies felt at least as little loyalty to their employees.
Now there's a growing consensus among economists and labor historians that those dotcom babies weren't just self-centered they were onto something.
"A lot of people, during the most exuberant days of the boom, thought 'Oh, all these free agents are disloyal job-hoppers. They don't get it: This is just part of the business cycle; this is going away,' " says Bruce Tulgan, founder of the management training firm RainmakerThinking. "I say to them 'You didn't get it. We can't go back to that old model. Welcome to the new economy.' "
An axiom of that new economy key to young workers is: Find security in job mobility, not job stability.
Constantly shifting labor needs are the hallmark of the modern global market, says Glenn MacDonald, professor of economics at Washington University in St. Louis. What that means for individuals, he says, is that nobody starting out in the workforce today will stay with a job for 30 years the way their grandparents and even many of their parents did. Instead, they'll be "learning things that last. Used to be, if you were an auto worker and you got laid off, you only knew that one trade. Now there's less emphasis on job-specific learning, and more on the kind of durable skills they can use anywhere," says Mr. MacDonald.
Some young workers still reeling from the swift reversal of fortune talk wistfully about the old career model. Snow, the once-high-flying Dartmouth MBA, says now he'd rather find a company he can stick with, the way his father did, than "start over every couple of years."
But others remain undaunted, seeing the chance to try numerous jobs as an opportunity for a more varied and fulfilling career.