There are those who point fingers: “choosy”, they say, “big kids”, “lazy”. And there are those who have already sold them off as the "lost generation", as if it’s their fault or they should atone for their crimes. No previous generation has been lumbered with so many labels and never – in spite of this – a generation has been so misunderstood. Who are the Millennials? The Pew Research Center has just released a definition, clarifying the boundaries of the "Millennial generation": millennials were born between 1981 and 1996. Those born later are part of another generation that, as of yet, has no name. Millennials, then, are between 22 and 37 years of age and, in Italy, are the generation that has paid the highest price for the economic crisis.
Alessandro Rosina, Professor of Demography at the Catholic University of Milan, has been observing them closely for some time in his role as coordinator for the Toniolo Institute’s “Youth Report”. "It’s not true that Millennials are a lost generation, this is not an unavoidable fate. The role of the new generations is to push the boundaries of what’s come before. The task businesses is to encourage them to do so," he says. The snapshot captured by the Youth Report 2018, published in mid-April, marks a turning point: The economic crisis crushed young people and put a freeze on their life plans. Now they are keen to “leave it behind them and finally put themselves in a position where they can become an active part of a process of change and development in the Country", says Rosina. Proof? 74% of respondents believe they personally could work towards trying to make things in Italy work better.
The young must strive to show they are being misrepresented by the people who put them in the position they are in.
"When talking about the young, public discourse goes straight to simplifications and stereotypes. The fatal error, for young people, would be to become what they are in the eyes of those who have failed to get the country growing, rather than becoming an active force in the desire to transform the country. The narrative tells us young people are incapable and lazy and that Italy is destined to fall further from grace, but this does not need to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. The young must strive to show they are being misrepresented by the people who put them in the position they're in, show that there is an alternative future. This depends very much on them, but the older generations can help if they are willing to move from away from hypercritical judgement, make the effort to understand the youth and act accordingly. Because the generations of the past were overprotective of their own children yet, simultaneously, fuelled an overly critical attitude towards the new generations".
The role of the new generations is to push the boundaries of what’s come before. The task businesses have is to encourage them to do so.
Misalignment of aspirations and employment
Resigning ourselves to having a “lost” generation, one that cannot prove its own capabilities or achieve its own ambitions, would be “dangerous not just for the youth but for Italy.” Young people today want to show that they back themselves, they want to play a positive role, but they’re lacking a national system that would provide them the fertile ground in which such new generations could flourish". Take employment, for example, a necessary condition for establishing independence and even starting a family of their own that young Italians still want: 40% of our youth say they have professional ambitions but don't know if they'll ever achieve them. That’s ten per cent above the British and the Germans. On the one hand, this feeds the age-old question of misalignment, on the other, a condition of existential frustration.
How can we change this? "With schooling that strengthens skills useful in life and at work and with the latest tools in building professional routes. We have too many ‘NEETs’ under the age of 35". In fact, young people look upon Italian schooling in a positive light yet it, "Finds it increasingly difficult to be a useful tool for early social advancement and for closing gaps. It is much more common in Italy than in the rest of Europe that those coming from families with few socio-economical resources are low-achievers. Moreover, the numbers obtaining certificates of higher education are lower than in more advanced economies: it is only after the age of 30 that having or not having a degree becomes relevant to employment and income. When they know good qualifications are necessary but increasingly insufficient for establishing a career, they can only do what they can in terms of effort and initiative: young people are acutely aware of that fact".
Italian schooling finds it increasingly difficult to be a useful tool for early social advancement and for closing gaps.
Aliens, but with all their papers in order
According to the Youth Observatory, Italian millennials rate their own transferable skills highly: honesty, a sense of responsibility, a willingness to learn, being able to relate to adults, the ability to work independently, critical thinking, team work, empathy… If all this is true and if soft skills are to be an increasingly deciding factor in the world of work, why are so many companies complaining about Millennials as if they were aliens, unsuitable and incapable of meeting the demands of the workplace? “Being young isn’t the same as it used to be. New generations are by their very nature different from previous generations. Millennials live in a complex and rapidly changing world. Its points of reference are far less stable than they used to be and it’s full of hidden contradictions, challenges and pitfalls," replies Professor Rosina. When it comes to the fragility of the world of work, “Various studies say that today’s youth are less inclined to make sacrifices, have shorter concentration spans and are more easily demotivated than their parents. But put them in the right contexts, with the right stimuli, with concrete and engaging objectives, and they’ll invest more enthusiasm and effort, achieving results beyond all expectations.
Are today’s kids lazy or is it maybe that ways of learning are changing and require new tools and teaching strategies?
So what is the moral of the story? "Are today’s kids lazy or is it maybe that ways of learning are changing and require new tools and teaching strategies? This is what we should ask ourselves. Are they disengaged and indifferent or is it perhaps that their way of participating no longer follows the old ways? Do they mistrust everyone and everything or do they give their attention to those who know how to communicate with them naturally and reliably, on subjects that coincide with the things that matter to them? There are those who do go with “what works” when it comes to points such as these; however, at the moment these people are the exception.
The good news is that, "There is a great desire among young people to be recognised not for what they lack and what the past can no longer guarantee, but for what they can become, for giving back to the country and for building a better future, one consistent with their values and plans. New generations have the task of proving that when you give them space and trust you get the best results, but this country must demonstrate that it believes in its young people".