If you’re a parent of one of those twenty-somethings, here are a few thoughts that may help you to manage your concerns.
The first thing to say is that it takes time for some people to decide what they want to do and are best suited to. Don’t worry if your son or daughter spends the first few years of their working life trying different jobs. this will help them to work out where their strengths and interests lie. Are they better suited to working with the public, a close set of colleagues or largely alone? Do they like to be moving about or sitting behind a desk? Can they sell? (I always recommend people try at least one job where they have to sell – it’s excellent training for all areas of work). Do they like the cut and thrust of business, or are they better suited to something that is related to social values?
Think of those first few years as a set of extended paid internships and by the end of it they will know themselves pretty well. I like to think that in the future there will be far fewer people coming to see me around the age of 40 having realised that they have been unhappy for the best part of twenty years because they entered a career without knowing if it really was right for them.
Secondly, the world of work is probably very different compared with when you started out. There’s much less long-term careering nowadays. The workplace is changing so rapidly that skills needs come and go almost overnight. I think you’re going to see many more people who enter the job market today end up with upwards of four or five different careers behind them. By the time they end their working life there’s a chance that some of their early jobs will be as obscure and obsolete to their grandchildren as a lamplighter is to us. In other words, they might look like they are drifting from one thing to another, but the reality is that this is how many people will work in the future.
Which brings me on to my next thought: I don’t think the current generation entering the workforce think about work in the same way as we and our parents did. Many are still motivated to achieve in a professional sense. They are concerned about being able to enjoy a good quality of life and they worry about whether they will ever be able to own a property. Nonetheless, a career (and life more generally) for the next generation will not be about climbing a ladder, but about gathering a range of fulfilling and challenging experiences.
One final thought. Your children are going to be a long time working. Much longer than us. They are going to live longer, and if they retire at 60 or 65 they’re going to struggle on a pension plan that will need to stretch for perhaps 40 years. They know that they are probably still going to be fit enough to work into their 80’s and they know they will probably need to. Is it any wonder they’re not all champing at the bit to get started on their career now? In a sense they are bringing their retirement forward. Instead of going on cruises at the end of their working life, they’re going to irrigate African villages at the beginning of it.
In conclusion, don’t worry that your child appears not to be engaging in their career they way you might expect them to do. They are probably looking it through a different lens. Their world of work is very different to yours, and the way they are approaching it probably looks strange to you, but not to them.