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The dignity of work, and what young people can do to find it

6:00:00 AMJoseph Anderson

“All that serves labor serves the nation. All that harms is treason. If a man tells you he trusts America, yet fears labor, he is a fool. There is no America without labor, and to fleece the one is to rob the other.” —Abraham Lincoln

Finding a job after graduation, either from high school or after college, is a concern close to the hearts of young people in America. We may not talk about it at home games or at parties on the weekend, but that fear —or hope—of what we will be doing after school is over with is always there. And if we look at the statistics, there is good reason for our many fears. Many young people who are actively searching for work can’t find it. According to the Economist, “in total, nearly half of the world’s young are contributing to the labour market less effectively than they could be.”
It isn’t enough to point to young people as the cause of this. If our students are spending grade school, middle school, high school and then college under our care, and by the end of all that they still don’t know how to properly prepare themselves for work life after college, then they cannot be the only ones to blame. Their teachers, parents and ultimately their society has in some way let them down.
What we don’t realize, however, is though it might not always seem opportune to give jobs to the young, by not investing in the upcoming generation, we are ultimately depleting the stores that the older generation must one day live off of. People are living longer, and birth rates are dropping. That means that there will be less people to support the vast population as they get older. The problem of not investing in our young seems clear from this —not only does unemployment or underemployment among the young mean an inability to get married and have children, it means that they will be in a less good place twenty years down the road to carry the weight of politics, social reform and professions.
We young people know that the job market isn’t good, so  those of us who happen not to be Internet entrepreneurs are often opting to stay in school longer, even if a future in academia may not be what we want. We see the impossible qualifications listed in job ads and hope that a graduate degree will help beat the odds stacked against us. And this isn’t helped by the fact that more people are graduating from college than ever, which causes academic inflation to increase; i.e. jobs that once only required bachelor's degrees now require masters.

What we can do to fight back against youth unemployment

It seems that encouraging our young people to “go to school” is no longer enough to prepare them for the work force. More and more frequently, corporations are finding college graduates lacking in basic workforce abilities. And on top of that, with more people graduating from college than ever, the value of the degree is inevitably crashing. It takes a lot more to be a competitive job candidate after graduating than simply making it through school.

One often overlooked but immensely valuable thing college students can do in order to help secure a job after college is seeking internship and mentor ship experience before graduating. And for those of us already familiar with these things, it might be shocking for us to find out that many students out there are horribly misinformed about the possibility of gaining practical job experience while still in school. A vast number of students spend their summers working menial jobs that, while good in and of themselves, do not help prepare the students for the workforce. If colleges and those who are able inform young people about these opportunities, and even more, help them find them, our future college graduates would be at less of a disadvantage.

Changing the way we see work

“Work is fundamental to the dignity of a person. Work, to use an image, ‘anoints’ us with dignity, fills us with dignity, makes us similar to God, who has worked and still works, who always acts”—Pope Francis

With all that doom and gloom about the job market being said, we still must not forget the dignity of labor—that work gives us humans dignity, and that each man and woman should be given the opportunity to work and provide for themselves and their family.

And, unfortunately, that work ethic which once made America great may or may not exist in the hearts of her people today. While that can be debated, it is undoubtedly true that our generation suffers from a great disillusionment about the workforce. In the back of our minds, we assume that the greatest things will be in our reach, but we don’t necessarily know what those things are, how we can practically reach them, so that when we graduate into a busy world filled with corporations that have other things on their mind besides training new upstarts, we become brashly discouraged.

Perhaps a change in the way we view work is in order. Maybe we don’t need to measure ourselves up to the top earners —the entrepreneurs and movie stars. It seems that in our minds, because we were once told we can do whatever we want, that if we aren’t doing exactly what we thought it was we wanted then somehow we are failing or falling short.

There is dignity in work simply by working. What we do may not affect people on a large scale. We may not invent the next big social media platform or cure AIDS, but we can fulfill our deep need for work by putting ourselves out there, gaining practical work experience, and not being afraid to start at the bottom of a ladder we want to climb. Overtime, our passion might find us, or we might find that we were made for something even bigger than we knew we were capable of.

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