The institutional job market seems to have an hourglass shape these days, and not in any good way. The realms of upper management are glutted with folks who have put in their years but don’t have the capacity or confidence to retire. Meanwhile the newbies (many of whom are anything but new) are engaged in generational warfare for coveted entry-level positions such as internships, IT positions, contractors and service industry jobs.
What’s missing is the proverbial ladder, the means to get from one level to the next. Year after year the middling responsibilities have been divvied between the top and bottom through round after round of layoffs and downsizing. Its not intentional, but it’s a terrifying market when you’re down here at the bottom, only a few years out of college, trying to imagine a life, wanting to believe in the elusive dream of “career” you were sold by your parents and the university.
The generation of young adults that faces this daunting challenge however is one of the most optimistic we have seen in forty years. Confronted with incredibly limited options they have turned to family and friends, rebuilding traditional support networks. They see their technological know how as a means for collaboration, not competition with older generations. And they have a deep hope that they can rebuild and reform the broken institutions of our common life. But they know they can’t do it alone.
The greatest need this generation has, and the greatest deficit we as a society have in responding to their hopefulness is our capacity to mentor them as they explore new models for success and fulfillment. We as a society have forgotten what it means to walk alongside those who will come after us. We’re often intimidated by their technical proficiency. Their confidence and “entitlement” come off as irreverent and irresponsible. They want to level a playing field that we had to climb as a cliff face.
But the rules have changed. Success, once defined as wealth and celebrity has been blown open and shown to be empty and morally void. Replaced by community, job satisfaction, and some understanding of integrity, this generation has egalitarian, team-based values more akin to their grandparents than to the Boomers and GenXers. And unlike Generation X, they are looking for mentors, for someone to guide them along their path, to curate their learning and experience of the world, someone they can trust.
We as the Episcopal Church have an opportunity to walk with these young people. Amidst an economy that refuses to “give” them anything, they are desperately seeking that for which they are willing and ready to fight. More than a job, this is a generation seeking a vocation, a calling in this world, and we have at our disposal all the tools necessary to help them explore and name that calling: communities of support, theological space for exploring and naming values, a vast store of life experience, the resources to allow for both success and failure, and ultimately the hope that the deaths of institutions and ways of being are opportunities for rebirth and new life. The questions presented us are how willing we are to enter into vulnerable, honest relationship with a generation and who will lead the way?