It was the year 1500, according to an article by BBC, one of the assistants to the Venetian ambassador to England observed English families that kept their children at home until they were about nine years old, before sending them off to perform menial labor tasks in other homes. Research showed this trend was the norm in most of Northern Europe, although the age children were sent away was 14 years old. The harsh truth was that households knew these young workers were cheap labour, and families who did not have the means to buy apprenticeships for their children assumed that this ‘rite of passage’ would benefit them later in life.
Thankfully, this social norm has been largely phased out. Instead, we are the generation who is perceived as sometimes over-attached to our familial surroundings. In the current economic climate, more and more graduates are flocking back to their roots like homing pigeons. However, we still live in an environment of competition and, as we strive to distinguish ourselves from the crowd, the rise of unpaid internships began, as well as “bashing” of Generation Y.
Matt Bors, a political cartoonist for Medium and editor at The Nib, created informational graphics to describe what is going on with today’s young workforce. Perhaps the pinnacle of the madness was a story run by the Washington Post that stated, “Cracked cell phone screens are a point of pride for young people.” Fascinating, considering one of the many complaints is that millennial generation is obsessed with over-sharing on their phones. In this dismal picture, Bors concludes that we “came late to the banquet and were served up crumbs. Which we will Instagram before we eat.”
In 1992, when I was a chubby newborn, just 17 percent of college graduates went down the unpaid internship route. Today, that number is 50 percent. 500,000 people are currently in unpaid internships in America. The more intriguing picture comes from the National Association of Colleges and Employers. In 2013, just 37 percent of college graduates were offered jobs after unpaid internships, only slightly higher than the 35 percent hired who did not participate. 63 percent of college graduates, on the other hand, who pursued a paid internship found a job.
As with most sets of statistics, take this one with a grain or two of salt. There are wide varieties of reasons that contribute to someone getting hired, and internships are not the whole story. Such a surge in these stories do not materialise out of thin air. Yes, the scope of an unpaid intern’s responsibility could be reviewed, programs could be revamped, and corporate culture could be re-examined. But an unfortunate complement to this puzzle is that we perpetuate this ourselves.
Forget the impending stress of figuring out where your life is taking you, if like me, you graduate in “50-ish” days. Reminisce back to the weeks before college applications were due. Students all over the world were packaging four years of hard work and personal growth into 200-word blurbs to be sent to admissions teams. There was the girl who had three college counselors working on her résumé since she was barely in middle school, and the economics genius that hailed from three different countries and started a company already looking for angel investments. Forget prancing around your neighborhood singing about summer, “Grease”-style. If you were not slogging away at a big project, you were ostracized from the race.
So who’s accountable? Those who want to get ahead at all costs? Those who let work experience become a “race to the bottom” phenomenon? That’s too one-dimensional. What I can say is that I, as a millennial, do not sit on my behind all day in sweatpants waiting for my next grand opportunity to come my way. In fact, I do not believe I have ever owned sweatpants. Over 500 years have passed since the dismal state of child labour was rampant on Europe’s streets. But that clamour to rise above the rest never changed, and it never will.
Applying to college, you had to be able to package your entire being into paragraphs, your dreams into a 30-second elevator pitch. The soul-searching element of finding yourself is dying. But maybe that’s what gives us perspective. Yes, the next step of your life does heavily depend on what you put in that application box, but at the end of the day they are words on the page, not tyrants of your mind or health. Rejection does not mean you should climb into a cave and live out your days on berries. It sounds intuitive, but it’s easy to forget. Be careful of knowing what it means to lean in, and what it means to lean over and lose yourself in the enormity of it all. A wise friend said, “If at first you don’t succeed, redefine success.” We millennials may have been left with crumbs, but we have the promise of creating a brand new loaf of bread.
Sofiya Mahdi is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences and a former managing editor at The Daily Free Press. She can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.