Earlier this year we hosted a half dozen community conversations that focused on disadvantaged youth and what gets in their way of having a chance at a good life. We defined disadvantaged youth as teens who had dropped out of high school and were unemployed. Many of those who joined the conversations were in their teens or twenties.
One summary comment was repeated in at least half of the groups: Youth who drop out and don’t have jobs “don’t want to work just to pay a bill”. I can think of three interpretations of that statement – see what you think and if you have other ideas.
They could be saying:
1. Work is a hassle. It isn’t fun and I don’t have the energy for it. I don’t think I can get a decent job. I’d just as soon stay with folks who do have an income, and hang out.
2. Work is boring. No one close to me has ever had a job that was fun, or that they liked, or that made a difference. It’s always been hard, exhausting and included difficult bosses and coworkers.
3. Work gets you nowhere. I’ve never seen anyone make enough money in a job to be able to get things they want – like a new car, a house, good clothes, plane trips, sports equipment, music, eating in nice restaurants…
So when youth see work in these ways, they see it as a necessity to pay bills and no more. And they find it hard to get motivated to go to work just to see their pay vanish into rent, utilities, and groceries. Some say they don’t care about money because it’s just money to cover those basics. It’s too hard, not meaningful and not rewarding.
But the reality is that people need money to live. People are not simply entitled to support from others because of what they don’t want to do.
What can be done to help young people see work as a path to something better?
How can we give them a vision of a good life and how to get there?
As they say in schools, Modeling Matters! Talking to adults who have fun at work or do interesting and useful work could make a big difference. Hearing about the path taken by adults that included those drudge jobs but led to something else helps put a working life into perspective. Seeing how education and training opens up doors to make a life that feels good can change outlooks.
But if young people don’t hear about work in a different way and if they don’t know anyone who looks at work as a good thing, they can quickly become stuck in a view of work that is completely discouraging. Throughout life people uncover their personal talents and what they like to do. That interest or passion can guide training and work choices.
Help a young person figure that out and you make a difference in his or her life and also in the very community we live in.