Sunday Reflections: Helping Our Teens Plan for an Uncertain Future, or, what about jobs?
Yesterday I was driving when they announced on NPR that the unemployment rate had hit a new low of 3.9% and then they followed up that bit of news with the rejoinder that this was in part because many people had simply given up looking for jobs. The trouble is, many people will look at the number and think everything is fine, without paying attention to the caveat. I’ve been thinking a lot about jobs for a variety of reasons, one of which is that The Teen, now almost age 16, is being asked to start planning for her vocational adult life and it’s complicated.
I’ve also been thinking about jobs a lot because The Mr has been searching for a new job . . . for almost three years now. He actually loves the job he currently has, but while other managers are put on a rotating schedule he has been forced to work weekend thirds for the past six years, and as a family with school age children this means that we get to do exactly nothing as a family unless it’s the summer and we do the very delicate work of coordinating schedules. Also, working nights has proven to take a very real and personal toll on his health. The most recent job he applied for told him that they actually took the posting down after a mere 48 hours because they had almost 400 applicants in such a short amount of time that they were overwhelmed. The posting was supposed to be up for 2 weeks because they took it down in less than 48 hours because they had too many applicants.
In 2011 the library that I was working with at that time laid off several staff workers, including a dear friend of mine. It took her 3 years to get a new job in the library field. Three long, hard years. She is happily employed now, but I will never forget the dark valley of unemployment that she walked through and the torment and toil it took for her to find a new job in a profession that she loved that is constantly shrinking and less willing to hire professional, full-time staff. I have several other friends currently looking for new librarian positions and the outlook isn’t proving any better for them.
So it’s not enough to look at an unemployment number, because there is more to the story. How many of those people are employed at full-time hours with a livable wage and benefits? How many people are underemployed and working multiple jobs? How many people have simply stopped looking? The economy and the health of our nation is about more than a simple number. As someone who currently works in a community with a high poverty rate, I see the stories that this number fails to tell you.
I’ve also been thinking a lot about jobs because, as I’ve mentioned, I work with teens and they are being asked daily to plan their vocational future. What will you be when you grow up is a more pressing question when you are just a couple of years, or even a few months, from being that grown up. The other week on Twitter I followed the hashtag #CILDC, which was a live tweeting of the professional conference Computers in Libraries. At one point several attendees tweeted this statement:
“42% of today’s workforce will be affected by automation within the next 10 years; 85% of jobs in 2030 haven’t been invented yet.”
Did you see that? 85% of the jobs in 2030 haven’t even been invented yet. 2030 is a mere 12 years from now. That means that teens today are tasked with trying to plan for careers that don’t even exist yet. How do you plan for the unknown job market? Many of our teens are planning for careers that will cease to exist or radically change shortly after they enter the job market. That’s a huge task to ask of teens, and the librarians and educators who are tasked with helping them. We are being asked to help teens prepare for a future that is so radically unknown and by all accounts unknowable.
Don’t get me wrong, the future is always truly unknowable, but it does feel like were are living in a time with rapid change and incredible insecurity when it comes to career planning. And yes, we can look at other periods of time and see this happening. But the task seems daunting when you are in the process of filling out college applications and choosing majors. What if my field ceases to exist? It’s not a question I ever considered in my teen and young adult life, though I suppose I should have.
For me, even as a librarian, I have seen incredible change in my field in the last 25 years. In the beginning, there was considerable trust in and support for public libraries. But over time, we have culturally witnessed a slow shift away from public entities, especially if it involves using tax monies, and the idea of community good. Some parties have worked hard to instill a distrust in anything community natured while at the same time working to undermine things such as support for teachers, unions, and a wide variety of institutions and professions that were once seen as both necessary and beneficial. Every year librarians convene in state houses to beg for state support as the ALA and other organizations lobby members of Congress for national support. Every year librarians are asked to do more and more with less and less. And if you are a librarian who is searching for a job, you may have to be prepared to move great distances and start completely over because the professional jobs market appears to be shrinking.
It’s even worse if you are a librarian who wants to specialize in young adult/teen services. In the early 90s there was a tremendous push for and recognition of the need for YA librarians. Teens, we began to understand, were a unique age group with specialized developmental needs who deserved trained, dedicated staff who would meet their needs and help retain this age group as both present and future library users and supporters. But it turns out, teens in the library are challenging for some staff and when budget cuts need to be made, this is often the first place administrators will look. It doesn’t help that culturally, teens are often and easily reviled as difficult, abrasive, and rude so cutting teen services has far less impact then cutting things like children services; we still on the most basic level agree that we have a responsibility to take care of our children, and the younger and cuter they are the better. And don’t get me wrong, I love children of all ages and love being involved in children’s services, I just hate how expendable our culture views teenagers in comparison to the regard, esteem and responsibility we feel towards our younger citizens. Teens, although they are loathe to admit it, ARE still children who need nurturing, support, guidance, boundaries and more.
So this idea of teens and jobs comes full circle. It’s both about the job of being a librarian who works with teens and about helping teens plan for an unknowable future.
So jobs, I’ve been thinking about them a lot. I currently know several highly regarded, passionate and experienced librarians who are looking for new jobs for a variety of reasons and the professional field out there is not pretty. Then I hear facts and figures like almost 400 people applied for a manager job in less then 48 hours. And then I hear the news that 85% of the jobs just 12 years from now do not currently exist. At the same time, I hear our country’s leaders celebrating a unemployment number that has an asterisk by it and see the teens in my community leaving to attend the daily community free meal and I can’t help but think, this is funny math.
A healthy economy and a healthy community is more than just a low unemployment rate and it’s hard for me to celebrate this report when I still see so many people around me sincerely and genuinely struggling to find good paying jobs that aren’t killing them emotionally and physically, that allow them to truly parent their children, and allows them to put food on the table with any sort of regularity.
How do we help our teens plan for such an uncertain future while they live in such unstable times? This is the question that haunts me.
Filed under: Sunday Reflections
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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