Unlike their parents in the baby-boom generation, young workers entering the job market today are much more willing to trade job security for advancement opportunity, according to a new survey commissioned by the AFL-CIO to help understand the work force of the new economy.
For a labor movement that has spent much of the past quarter-century trying to protect the jobs of its members against the tides of economic change, the voices of Generation X were a bit of an eye opener.
"We wanted to provide a snapshot of the generation of workers with the most at stake who will ultimately determine how well we do as a nation in the next century," AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said at a news conference. "What we found is the attitude of today's young workers are predictable in some ways, counterintuitive in others."
The survey, conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates, found that workers 18 to 34 years old provided good and bad news for management and labor as the two traditional adversaries seek to position themselves for the new century. Only 8 percent of the 752 workers surveyed were union members.
The willingness of younger workers to trade job security for advancement opportunity is anathema to most of the labor movement, and it represents a policy challenge for a movement seeking to regain its role as a power in the American economic system.
But the news is not necessarily very good for business either. The survey found that young workers start to change their views about the job-security trade-off as they approach their late twenties and begin to lose trust in their employers. The survey showed that 60 percent of workers between age 25 and 29 believe employers are failing to meet their end of the bargain when it comes to sharing profits with workers and providing upward mobility.
The survey showed that 72 percent of the workers interviewed believe they will work for two to 10 employers over their lifetimes and that they have a responsibility to update their skills and education to keep pace with the changing needs of the workplace.
About 75 percent of young workers today do not have a college degree. The promise of a high-tech career as a software engineer or a systems analyst is often little more than a fading dream for a large percentage of younger workers, who can't afford the additional training or education to upgrade their skills, the survey report found.
"The job situation young Americans are experiencing today depends on one factor above all others--whether or not they have graduated from college. While most young college graduates have fulltime, permanent jobs, only half of young workers without degrees have such standard employment. The rest are working in part-time, temporary or other sub-standard arrangements," the report said.