When people hear the story of Vicky Harrison, they are quick to comfort themselves with all kinds of qualifiers. They leave comments like, she left school, she had mental issues that weren’t reported on or she took the easy way out. None of them seem to address why this had to happen. Vicky had been looking for a job for almost 2 years after leaving college. After over 200 rejections, her self-worth was so low that she took her own life.
I’m not asking why she died. I want to know why she had to send out 200 applications in the first place. Does this system of finding a job produce better workers?
Vicky’s plight is not unique. While the article was from the UK, here in BC the unemployment rate for 18-24 year olds is 15.9 percent, almost twice the provincial average of 8.1 percent. Her suicide is probably just a symptom of thousands, possibly millions of young people who might be suffering debilitating mental issues because they can’t find jobs.
It doesn’t make sense. A generation ago, people that age were getting married and having kids on top of starting careers with things like pensions and a mandatory retirement age. In all likelihood, they were less educated than the current crop of young adults. It’s like we’ve gone from a culture that worshipped youth to one that completely abhors it.
It’s tempting to blame the demographically larger baby boomers for this, but this has been going on ever since Douglas Coupland’s “Generation X” was published 20 years ago. I think it has more to do with the fact that we live in the most policy-choked, paternalistic, and gentrified labor system ever produced by human civilization. There are so many rules and regulations in private companies that they end up killing all initiative and decision making. No one wants to bear the cost of training new and unproven workers in that kind of situation.
I don’t know how we’re going fix this system, but we can start by admitting that it’s broken. Most young workers are going to have to find their fortunes outside of official channels like resumes and reference letters. It’s cruel and dangerous to tell them otherwise. Change will come, but it’s not going to be found in the company handbook.