Young people today

While poking along today like an old fogey with my stick into the grocery store I encountered a young fellow whom I hadn’t seen – except coincidentally several times walking on the sidewalk while I was driving – for quite some time, about 5 years ago we figure.  When I asked him repeatedly, “What are you doing these days?” he as often ignored the enquiry and seemed intent upon moving onto another less intrusive topic of conversation like our health or the weather. It finally became apparent that he was doing nothing and that he was having a hard time of it. This was disappointing for me as well because the last time we had talked with him he was cheerfully reporting involvement in something promising.

While I haven’t any particular attachment to the employment progress of youth, I am aware from what I have frequently overheard that many young people (like the fellow I mentioned above) are either living with their parents or are financially dependent upon their parents. Though I have no objection to either young or old people living under one roof for whatever reason, I cannot but observe that many young people appear to be struggling with or for employment these days. This is for me especially alarming as in most cases the young people (some of whom are approaching age 40) are well qualified by virtue of their education and what I consider a generally favourable demeanour and family background.

By contrast to this apparent stagnation of employment I have as regularly overheard exclamations (primarily in the media) that employers are screaming for employees. The urgency extends to the health care and police safety as well for what I presume are relatively complicated careers requiring skill.

By coincidence earlier this morning we happened to stop on the road in Renfrew County, flagged down by a young road worker who was controlling the flow of traffic during paving work by Thomas Cavanagh Construction (about which we had earlier commented that its involvement in construction was seemingly ubiquitous). The young road worker (I am guessing in her 20s) indicated upon my enquiry that she had been working for Cavanagh for some time and that she like I was well acquainted with the corporation’s high repute.

I mention the road worker because, in 1968 after my first year of undergraduate studies at Glendon Hall in Toronto, my first summer job was as a road worker for Standard Paving Company (of which I believe my father’s dear friend Donald McKinnon was then Vice-President). Now I know this inspires the blend of influence but it was strictly a low-level employment.  I wore a yellow hard hat; I had to be on the job at five o’clock in the morning; frequently my task was to descend into manholes to relocate or remove gravel which had mistakenly fallen into the sewer. Latterly I worked at a weigh station on a gravel pit, calculating and recording the weight of trucks as they left the pit with their cargo. The good side of the job was that I was paid $2.50/hr which at the time was about double what other students could expect.

My recollection is that I lasted at that hard hat job with the paving company for about two weeks.  Out of my own initiative I contacted the powers that be (the Chiarelli family) at the Cedar Hill Golf & Country Club nearby my parents’ home.  I negotiated employment as lifeguard of the pool.  You can imagine that that was more convincing for me as a summer job. I can’t recall what they paid me.

This dreary narrative leads one to question the primary source of the employment problem, especially when confronted with competing salaries. The account also highlights that employment at certain levels, particularly for young people, is not always attractive. But one also hears reports that young people revoke the privilege of menial employment. And having done so myself – though not without first securing alternative employment – I cannot disparage others from doing likewise.

By way of summary, when it comes to analyzing the current state of youthful employment, I am left with the image of two youngsters.  One is struggling to find anything; the other is doing anything to overcome the struggle. Who’s to say?