Gen Y takes centre stage

I love Gen Y.

I love their energy, their tolerance, their sense of humour and their long legs.

I don't think they're particularly different to any other generation and, as I've written previously, it's "been the job description of younger cohorts to irritate their predecessors since ... before the birth of Christ".

Still, some of them do excel in being annoying and the mantra of "give us our time in sun" dims somewhat when you consider that in the arenas Gen Y are being allowed their moment to shine, they're not exactly overachieving.

The most visible and public failures, of course, are in our national sporting teams. It's sometimes hard to separate whether our swimmers, rugby players and cricketers are just medicocre or really doing as dreadfully as gleeful Gen Xers and Baby Boomers would have us believe.

A widely sanctified theory I've heard repeated at pubs, cafes and dinner parties is Gen Y in this country lacks starch because Australia cruised through the Global Financial Crisis and our youth were denied the benefit of tough times to lower their expectations.

There may be some validity in this when you consider there's around 75 million unemployed young people worldwide, with up to 360 million young people classed as NEET (not in education, employment or training) according to The International Labor Organization.

Put a toe outside our borders and yoof is ravenous for opportunity.

Consider also the figures for youth unemployment in this country since 1980 and it's hard to make a case Gen Y are doing it any tougher than Gen X did.


Last year (2012), the Australian Bureau of Statistics logged youth unemployment (ages 15-24) at 11.7 per cent. This was the highest figure since 2003, when it was 12 per cent.

In 1992 it was 19.4 per cent, '93 (18.7 per cent), '94 (17 per cent). In fact, for all of the 80s and 90s it was above 11.7 per cent except for two years (1981 - 11.4 per cent and '89 - 11.2 per cent).

For the rest of those two decades, it was several percentage points higher than it is now, so Gen X have a case when saying our newest members of the workforce have seen nothing in the hardship stakes.

Compare our youth unemployment rate in 2011 (11.3 per cent) - the last year the United Nations Statistics Division has figures for - to other western countries like Belgium (18.7 per cent), France (21.2 per cent), Ireland (35.3 per cent), New Zealand (18.2 per cent), the UK (22 per cent), the US (18.7 per cent), Greece (38.5 per cent), Italy (27.1 per cent) and Spain (48.2 per cent) and it's not hard to imagine young people from those places might be a little hungrier for work than they are here.

(You don't even wanna see the figures for some third world countries).

However, unemployment figures are largely a furphy when it comes to our international sports people because they have jobs and, in the case of our rugby players and cricketers (less so swimmers), are being paid big bucks for their talents.

The Guardian's Mike Selvey made the case on Monday our young cricketers are paying the price of Cricket Australia being "in thrall to commercial success with the Big Bash and the chickens are coming home to roost in the Ashes".

Wrote Selvey:

"When it comes to first-class cricket, and the pathway to Test cricket, Australia have lost the plot ... those of a vintage will tell that a good grade side of their era would provide stiffer competition than the current Australia team.

"The problem lies deep in the grassroots of the game, where long-game techniques have been sacrificed on the altar of T20 ambition. Pitches at grade and first-class level promote results before excellence, and the whole idea of a predominant first-class programme has been jettisoned to bookend status in favour of the Big Bash."

This piece was dutifully followed up the SMH's Chloe Saltau, who flirted around her stumps with the same theory but refused to be drawn into a shot: "Whether or not the Twenty20 revolution is responsible for the short attention spans of batsmen who cannot stick out the tough periods, the superior techniques of the English batsmen including 22-year-old centurion Joe Root suggests something has gone wrong in Australian coaching," she wrote on Wednesday.

The fact remains, Australia's best cricket and union players do not really have to worry about performing for their national side because they know they can make enormous money overseas, despite never donning the green and gold again.

And when you consider Australia's best batsman, now, and for the last few years is Michael Clarke, a man who's never taken the easy cash of the Indian Premier League, the argument bears consideration.

If this is the case, it makes me wonder why we're caning the players and not CA CEO James Sutherland who seems to be skating through crises largely untouched (I wonder whether journalists' access to players has something to do with this?)

In the meantime, I'm guessing a large proportion of the Australian population will remain patient with Gen Y athletes (they are our nephews and nieces, sons and daughters, after all), pray for their success and hope they grab their time on the world stage and put it to good use.  

 You can follow Sam on Twitter here. His email address is here.

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