Maybe Millennials Just Don’t Want To Work At Muffin Break
I was 15 when I started doing unpaid work.
It was called ‘work experience’ and we got a day off school to hang out in an office/library/retail store for a day to learn how the big world works.
When I was 18, while studying journalism at uni, I did unpaid internships and work experience at a number of Australian media companies. I wrote for free for publications which launched my career in journalism, and eventually helped land me a full-time job at HuffPost before I’d finished my degree. So I’m not going to diss their value.
But when I saw yesterday that Muffin Break general manager Natalie Brennan thinks millennials have an inflated sense of entitlement and are “clueless” about the reality of work because they’re no longer knocking on her door begging for unpaid jobs, I scoffed into my smashed avocado toast.
Sure, her comments feel retro, in the way older generations have been tut tutting about ‘kids these days’ since the beginning of time. History is littered with older people complaining about the lack of moral character and entitlement youth possess. Indeed Aristotle wrote in the 3rd Century BC of young people thinking themselves ‘equal to great things’ and ‘having exalted notions’.
But her argument also hinges on the premise that unpaid internships are mutually beneficial. They’re definitely good for employers, but then again, so was slavery. But are they good for employees? The statistics say no.
Research from the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that taking unpaid internships actually put graduates at a disadvantage when seeking paid employment. It undermines their value and sense of self-worth. Those who did unpaid internships were more likely to accept a lower starting salary than those who had not done any unpaid work.
Brennan’s also claims young people aren’t doing unpaid work anymore, and I’m not sure that’s the case. According to research by Queensland University of Technology, 58 percent of young Aussies had completed unpaid word experience in the past five years. A quick poll of my millennial mates backed this up, but they also said they wouldn't have been able to do it if they didn’t have parents footing the bill.
One said: “The internships I did were extremely valuable. I learnt a lot. I made connections. I worked hard. But I was also able to work for free because I lived at home and had parents who were able to pay the bills. It is a luxury and a privilege to work for free.”
READ MORE: Are Unpaid Internships Ripping Aussies Off
Another friend, who wants to work in the film industry, has been doing unpaid ‘work experience’ for the past five years.
“In my industry you have to - -employers just don’t hire people with no work experience. I don’t know a single person in my immediate network that hasn’t,” she said.
So the idea that we’re not willing to work hard, or work for free? I call bullshit. Maybe we just don’t want to work for free at Muffin Break.
But I think Brennan’s comments are worth hearing, because they are based on a larger social issue. She’s seeing changes in her workplace, in the way young people communicate, negotiate, and value themselves. And truthfully, I am too. So what’s changed?
Firstly, rates of tertiary education have increased significantly in the past 40 years. According to the Department of Education and Training, people are nine times more likely to have a Bachelor degree or higher than they did in 1970. As a result, we’re entering the workforce more skilled than previous generations, but also with more debt. We’re told: “go to uni, study hard and you’ll get a well paying job”, which seems disingenuous if unpaid work experience is also prerequisite for employment. So we’re asking for decent starting salaries and placing value on our skills.
Secondly, the labour market has changed dramatically, thanks to our good old friend technology. Age and experience still have value, no doubt. But youth brings with it a grasp of technology and innovation that makes millennials increasingly valuable.
Anyone in marketing, advertising or publishing knows how Facebook has totally disrupted traditional revenue models, and old school experience often can’t compete with a digital native’s understanding of the ‘algorithm’. The number of years spent at your desk no longer guarantees your value to a business, and young people are quickly realising that.
When Brennan says “I think everybody thinks social media is going to get them ahead somewhere,” she’s right. They do, because it can. Many millennials have built brands and businesses through their social media followings, becoming CEOs in their early 20s. Others get paid to be influencers. Others still, such as Mark Zuckerberg and Evan Spiegel, built social media itself. Followers and likes are a new form of currency, and businesses who fail to catch on are sinking, fast.
Thirdly, we Millennials are just doing what we’ve been told. Ask successful people how they got where they are today, and you’ll receive similar answers: Work hard. Hustle. Know your worth. Ask for more. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
It’s the message millennials have been fed by mentors, parents, teachers and idols since we were kids.
So we believe in ourselves. We work hard. We ask for more. We know our worth. We negotiate our salary. We go for promotions. We network. We leverage the value we have.
And you can choose to see that as entitled, annoying and self-important. Or you can see the value in it.
Because hire a good millennial and you’ll have an employee who is hardworking, ambitious, innovative, creative and keen to learn. Hire a good millennial and you’ll have someone who gets in early and stays back late, but goes to yoga at lunchtime because they don’t want to burn out.
Hire a good millennial you’ll have someone who gets technology, who can tell you the difference between Snapchat and Instagram stories and explain how hashtags work. Hire a good millennial and you’ll have someone who knows how to turn that damn PDF into a word document.
Hire a good millennial because chances are, they’ll post about your business to their thousands of friends and followers with #lovemyjob. And there’s a hell of a lot of value in that.