Europe's young people are bearing the brunt of the fallout from the collapse of the financial system and the struggle to save the Euro. In Britain, where I live, youth unemployment has topped one million. In Greece, the rate is nearly 50% — that's one out of every two young people in the country.
The good news is that there is work and there's actually quite a lot that we can do to create it. But it's not going to be work like we've been used to — nor can we provide it or find it the old-fashioned way. Specifically, we need to accept that:
- The world is undergoing a structural change. Just as we moved from machines to electronics after the second world war, now we are moving into a new age where all business is driven by networks, and the remote control to your life is your mobile phone. That means that the jobs you can get may not be like the jobs you had.
- A job is not a job is not a job. Government in its entirety is a cost-center to society, so we desperately need to create not just jobs, but private sector jobs. Each job in government that gets created just is a further weight around a country's neck.
- You may live in Barcelona, Leeds or Dublin, but your employer could be on the opposite side of the world. You must be open to that reality, and not shut yourself off from those employers in your quest for a local job.
- The government cannot help you. There's no money and anyway governments never spend ahead of the curve, where the new jobs are. Look at the entrepreneurs to find out where the smart money and new jobs are.
So what can we do to create jobs? Let's start with what the unemployed can do for themselves. Thanks to our new networked society, there are not only more opportunities than people realize but they are also much easier to access. Specifically you can use social media to help you:
- Sell, sell, and sell yourself. You can create a personal webpage to house all of your professional information, update your Linkedin Network, and do research on companies very easily.
- Build your network. Increasingly, your "natural market" is not defined by geography. You can connect and communicate with people who share the same passions and want what you can sell.
- Learn and share. You can learn about new things and become an expert more easily through online education and free digital information. You can blog about your interests.
- Make up your own job. Many people who were laid off will say that it was the best thing that happened to them as it gave them the kick they needed to set up their own kitchen table business, or become a consultant of this or that.
Of course, being clever online by itself won't guarantee you work. You also need to change your attitude to work. The challenge really isn't finding an employer to give you a job — rather it's how to monetize your skills. If you think like that, then you start looking (especially online) for people who need what you can do and have some cash to pay for it.
So if you're an unemployed accountant, why not look for small entrepreneurs who aren't very good at book-keeping? If you're good with computers, why not look for local businesses that need basic help with their office PCs — that was how Michael Dell got started, after all. If you think of yourself as providing a service, and reach out to the people in whose interest it is for you to be successful, you can't help but find opportunities.
To succeed in the world of 2012 job seekers will have to be more creative, more curious, and more connected than ever before. That's got to be good news for both sides — but they have willing to change their mindsets and embrace the challenges. Next time I'll take a look at what big business and government can do.
This post is part of the special series The New Rules for Getting a Job.
This blog first appeared on Harvard Business Review on 3/05/2012.