Generations Apart: new BBC Radio 4 series

Series 2 of Generations Apart, presented by Fi Glover on Radio 4, contains plenty of intergenerational food for thought, as Antony Mason reportsIF_Blog_Free_to_Work

The first of this new series, entitled “Finding Work”, was broadcast today. It essentially compares the employment situation that faced the baby boomer generation in the 1960s with the current job market.

Getting work was never easy, but the problems facing the youth of today are significantly different. Back in the 1960s and 1970s there were plenty of low-skill industrial jobs and apprenticeships that could provide an entry point to the world of work and a structured career. Today, unskilled young people despair of finding work (there may be 200 applicants for one job), while their well-qualified peers typically face months or years of internships, working for no pay, to gain the experience that is necessary to be considered for employment – “you have to prove you can already do the job that you are applying for.”

Social mobility

Fifty years ago, young people stood a good chance of being taken on and trained on the job, regardless of previous experience and qualifications, or indeed social background. Clearly, this had major implications for social mobility and the promotion of a meritocracy. The situation today seems to have taken a turn for the worse: social background has become important again, as generally only those young people with families willing and able to support them can afford to take long unpaid internships.

By their early twenties baby boomers were often well into independent adult life, on a secure career path with rented flats or mortgaged homes, even young children. Today, this kind of material stability at that age has become a rarity.

Both ends of the age scale

It’s the voices of interviewees that bring this programme alive, and show the varieties of personal experience which nonetheless point to overall trends. And one downside of the generally good prospects of the baby boomer generation is the dismay in later life when things turn out to be less rosy than the promise. For many, old age brings hardships for which they find themselves totally underprepared, and, forced to stay in the job market, work can be as hard to find as it is for the young.

Comments from Professor Rachel Thomson, sociologist at Sussex University and Director of the Centre for Innovation and Research in Childhood and Youth, provide further interesting insights into the historical perspectives.

Next week, in the second of two episodes, Fi Glover will look at the effect of high rates of youth unemployment on society as a whole.