I’m not the first person to write about this, and I certainly won’t be the last. But having read yet another Guardian article about us ungrateful youngsters trying to get on the job ladder with our useless degrees and entitlement, I’m angry enough to pick up my figurative pen anyway.
Warning: This post is about to get sweary.
The short version of the message I want to send to anyone who has ever written an article, blog post or smug anonymous comment about the younger generation’s inflated entitlement when it comes to employment is this:
Shut the fuck up.
The longer version, which will be coming to a very similar conclusion, is this:
As kids, my generation were raised with working at McDonald’s being the ultimate threat. You have to study for your exams, or you’ll end up working at McDonald’s. Stick in at school, or you’ll end up working at McDonald’s. Go to university and get yourself a degree, or you’ll end up working at McDonald’s. We were motivated by the picture of failure presented to us: working at McDonald’s meant you hadn’t worked hard enough. You were a failure. It was something to be ashamed of. If my generation feel entitled to not have to work behind the counter in McDonald’s once they’ve gotten their degree, it’s because that’s what we’ve had shoved down our fucking throats since we were barely old enough to write our own names.
Most of the graduates I know aren’t waltzing out of uni and expecting to land a six figure salary and a corner office within five years. Most don’t even care whether they get a job related to their degree. All they want is a steady paycheck coming in, preferably one that reflects the fact that they’ve been working their asses off for the past four years, and have sacrificed four years worth of pay on the promise that it’ll be worth it in the end. But instead, we’re offered long hours at minimum wage, or the chance to make coffee and sort mail in a basement somewhere, paid only in “experience”, and told that we should be grateful for it.
Everybody seems to have one answer to any complaints made by young people trying to find work, and it’s one I’ve seen crop up in the comments of every single article about graduate employment/unemployment since forever. Why don’t you just start your own business? That’s what all the young people should be doing. That’s what the generation before us did, if the internet is to be believed. Everybody shunned that horrible book learnin’ and started their own businesses using nothing but the money they’d saved from returning glass bottles to the corner shop. Pulled themselves up by their bootstraps! Never took nothing from nobody! It’s just that these kids today have no work ethic. Expect everything handed to them. No idea what the real world is like.
Because of course, moving to a completely new city, living on your own, scraping by on a couple of hundred pounds per month, cooking your own food, going from being top of your class to being surrounded by people infinitely smarter than you, studying really hard, spending nights sobbing in the library because you still don’t understand Iran’s political system, writing a 10,000 word dissertation, researching, taking part in debates, learning to stand up for yourself, learning to speak in public, making friends, feeling lonely, feeling scared and seeing hard work pay off teaches you absolutely nothing about the world and the value of work.
Like, seriously? Are you high? Did you just watch an episode of Skins and assume that that was what university was like?
Why are the only two options for graduates to work shitty minimum wage jobs, or create a completely awesome business that we will be entirely responsible for? If you think that graduates are smart enough to found and sustain a business (which a lot of them are, myself not included), then surely we’re smart enough to work in your offices, banks and businesses. I’m sorry that my degree in International Politics didn’t give me the necessary skills to start a knit your own fucking organic vegetables business, but does that really mean that I have to be mouth-frothingly grateful for the chance to pour coffee or flip burgers?
After that little shoutout to my undeniable Humanities qualification, let’s mention the elephant in the room: the useless degree (engineers, you can skip this paragraph, you guys are pretty much cushty when it comes to getting recognised for your degree). This is another thing that graduates have hurled at them literally all the time. You studied a degree in English Literature, what did you think was going to happen?
When did we decide that engineering was the only useful skill? Don’t get me wrong, I am totally pro having roads and buildings and scientific advancement, but is that all that there is? My boyfriend is pretty much a genius when it comes to engineering, and frequently does sums that make me feel dizzy just looking at them. He also forgets to use verbs in sentences sometimes. He baulks at having to read 20 pages of a textbook, while I grapple with a damn reading list that is that length. My degree taught me how to do my own research, analyse evidence, spot patterns, produce reports, find the important part of a book, form solid arguments and debunk shaky arguments. I pretty much killed myself for four years trying to wrap my head around ideas so complicated that, to most people, they’re as inaccessible as nuclear physics. Seriously, ask people about the Middle East and watch the fear on their faces. And yet, not only am I supposed to be grateful for literally any job offer that comes my way, I also have to deal with that little lip curl that comes when I reveal the subject of my degree.
Side note: If you have ever made fun of a Humanities student for their degree, fuck you. It’s not funny and it’s not banter. You are belittling something that someone has worked stupidly hard for, and you should be ashamed. Getting a degree is hard enough without people telling you that the 14 hour library stint you just pulled is worthless and laughable. When you’re feeling stressed or low because of the amount of work you have to do, a comment like that can be enough to make you not want to get out of bed in the morning. Please, sciencey folks, you are better than this. Get off our degrees.
Now listen carefully to this, because it’s very important, and for some reason, seems to be quite a revolutionary concept.
There is no such thing as a useless degree. Every single degree provides its students with extremely valuable transferrable skills like the ones I listed above. And as for the “useless” degrees, if you are prepared to look at someone who dedicated four years of their lives to studying and learning about a subject for no reason other than because it interests them and they love it, and write that off as a character flaw rather than an amazing strength, I genuinely question your intelligence.
Graduates are entitled. Because university isn’t a wacky, taxpayer-funded, four-year holiday. As somebody who has spent the last year in the “real world”, having dealt with unemployment, employment, depression, responsibility and paying taxes, being a grown up is a whole lot easier than being a student sometimes. I don’t think I’m special or unique or *insert Millenial adjective here* because I have a degree, but I do think it shows that I’m smart, passionate, hardworking and able to think long-term. I went to university and worked my little socks off, rather than earn four years’ worth of wages. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that I’d like to see a return on that investment. We don’t want to start at the top of the ladder, but please, for the love of god, just let us get on.