MARK McALLISTER: Ready for work? The gap between fantasy and reality

Young people entering the world of work need to have their expectations managed in a way that means they begin on day one with both eyes open
Mark McAllister

WITH the A level results hitting the mats a few weeks ago and the Department for the Economy Careers Service team out in force, we saw the cyclical parade of staple diet advice regarding what to do and where to go next, all underlined with the stock phrase “don’t panic!”

The pressure regarding choices on where young people go next can at times seem overwhelming and social media and mismanaged expectations have a lot to answer for.

Recently I asked a neighbour’s son what he hoped to do after his A levels and his answers meandered from a game designer to an “influencer”.

This gave me pause for thought regarding the gap between fantasy and reality and I had to keep any of my own age bias in check to make sure I was not being prejudiced about young people having a skewed perception of the world of work that awaits them.

So, I began by asking myself, where do young people get information about jobs and how do they determine what they want to do? This brought me back to the influencer. Who is it that nudges our young people into the type of job they seek?

As a parent, when you have a discussion with your average 18-year-old thinking about going into the world of work, you realise it’s the idea and image of work that they have in their head as opposed to balancing the rights and responsibilities attached to the day-to-day nature of work and the relationships that flourish from within the workplace, that drives them.

I think we do our young people a disservice by talking about work in vague, notional, or jaundiced ways using our past experiences to “help” inform their future experiences.

Imagine the impact of the following statements –

• Never work for a younger boss, they expect too much from you.

• I had a grievance in work, it took years to sort out and the place was never the same.

• The money is rubbish but its secure and you’re never too pushed.

• You cannot work from home full-time post-Covid and so I’ve stopped pushing myself

• I got passed over for promotion so many times I stopped applying.

• It’s just a job, you clock in, you clock out, you get paid, you spend – rinse and repeat.

Are these statements gloomy forebodings for our young people or necessary reality checks?

As adults in various positions of influence we need to couch our language carefully and assess what the drivers for our young people are – money?, status?, vocation?, tradition?, skill?, parental desire? peer pressure?, imagination?, esoteric desire? – the list goes on.

Part-time jobs as a student can be a double-edged sword with the experience either scarring them and showing them what they do not want to do or assisting them with the nuts and bolts of how relationships at work actually function, be they good, bad or indifferent.

Young people entering the world of work need to have their expectations managed in a way that means they begin work with both eyes open and with those eyes shining, bright and determined to make work work for them.

How will you help them achieve that?

:: Mark McAllister is director of employment relations services at Labour Relations Agency NI