Why Op-Ed Scribe Thinks Gen Y Should Eat Some Concrete

On Tuesday, 24 year old writer Georgia Leaker published an opinion article on The Sydney Morning Herald, titled, “Pass it on: Give gen y more than a foot in the door”. Leaker waxed lyrical on her disheartening and unsuccessful job-seeking process, despite having an impressive resume boasting two degrees, internships and extensive work experience. Leaker’s article caused a veritable stir, being the second most read article on SMH that day, and provoked a heated debate in the comments section, because #trolls. The following day, Ed Livesey, a university graduate from Sydney, penned his response on The Age to Georgia’s woe-is-me opinion piece with the hardened message that Gen Y are lazy, entitled and indulged, and that creative industry jobs never come by easily. He begins his piece by saying, “We have finished university, have experience through internships and applied for copious jobs but don’t have one … Welcome to the real world. We, Ys, as a generation, are so used to getting what we want when we want that anything less is perceived as a personal insult.”

We spoke with Ed about his article, its nasty backlash and why Gen Y kids with a clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose attitude about attaining their dream job really just need to work harder and quit whining.

Hey Ed, we really enjoyed reading your piece in The Age, and are intrigued by the stir both yours and Georgia’s articles have generated. What prompted you to write the article?

Well, my mum put Georgia’s article in front of me on Tuesday night and told me to have a read; I immediately scoffed at it, thought it was a waste of time. I ended up reading it, and it didn’t anger me, but I just wanted to give my opinion on the topic. It was never my intention to slander Georgia; at the end of the day, it was just an opinion piece like hers. People have been attacking me and attacking Fairfax, with comments like “you sit there with your tailored suit and your Toni & Guy haircut, you’re the product of a private school education” and it’s just…I’m me, and this is my opinion and the fact you can’t agree with me isn’t my problem. One guy really lashed in to me, saying that I probably live at home, that everything had been spoon fed to me, that my parents supported me. But actually, I was pushed in to the work force at 15, I’ve been in the workforce for 9 years now, and I earn the assistance I get from my parents.

So did some of those comments really upset you?

It got my heart racing. I was sitting there reading those comments and I was thinking, “I’ve caused a stir”. And I love that I’ve done that. At first, I was wondering why these people were saying horrible things about me, but then I thought, it’s my opinion versus theirs, and I don’t care. It’s the Internet—it’s these keyboard warriors sitting there saying: “I don’t know who this guy is but I’m going to judge him.”

You wrote about getting employed in the creative industry, and how young people like Georgia are finding it so difficult—impossible, even—to land that supposed dream job that probably doesn’t even exist. What do you think is fundamentally wrong with the Gen Y career attitude?

Well like what I said in the article, we need to be hungry, and I think as a generation we are just so lazy. I know people my age who say there’s no work in Sydney, but only because they aren’t willing to work Thursday, Friday or Saturday nights—because they’re the nights they go out. And that attitude is just off, because if you want to go somewhere in the world you need to do that; you need to do those double days of interning during the day and working at night. I suppose another issue isn’t about Gen Y necessarily, it’s also about finding a meeting point, so that creative industries can meet us half way, so we can find out how we can intern without feeling exploited, and they can benefit from our work.

So how do you think things have to change?

We’re in an industry that’s struggling on a large number of levels – publishing is in trouble, radio is in trouble. We need to wake up as a country and realize that social media and digital media are the future, and gen Y needs to start learning those skills. You need to start learning how to code, you need to be on the General Assembly website every week and finding out what courses they have.  We need to broaden our skillset from a university degree.

I found out today that there’s
a new magazine from the UK being released called “intern”, a bi-monthly publication dedicated to ‘internship culture’ and the lives of interns. Recently that film The internship was released, and it seems like every week people are adding their two cents – last week Wendy Harmer wrote a piece saying she would never allow her children to undergo an internship for free. Do you think that it’s all a bit exhausting, that the conversation is getting a bit stale?

People commented on my article saying, “You’re another Gen Y whinger”. There is all this conversation, and we need to stop whinging and say, “Well what can we do about it?” The guys that have gone and sued that film company [Black Swan production interns], good on them for doing something. We are a passive generation. I’ve said my bit, Georgia’s said her bit, Wendy’s said her bit, which is great, but now we need to do something. I mean, if you’re feeling exploited at an internship, don’t go. Walk off the job. Go on strike. Don’t just whinge.

I think another big thing is about the importance that’s placed on university degrees, as this ultimate achievement; where graduation is the golden ticket to the workforce. Coming out of high school, degrees focused towards creative industries seem to guarantee glamorous careers at the end, when in reality, there are far too many graduates for the number of jobs available. Do you think university degrees are a bit of a double-edged sword in the creative industries?

I have friends that are in the creative industries who haven’t gone to university. I also have friends from university who have jobs at high profile places, and they worked really hard to get there. I think the value of the piece of paper really lies in what you do around that. So it’s not just saying I went to class, I did three years of university, and I got a HD. I would happily trade a HD and three years of university for credits and a really good circle of friends, particularly in the creative industry where networking is so important. I think the biggest problem about Australian tertiary education is that so often people just get in, go to class and leave. And we’re also spoilt with options at university: we all begged for choice, and now we don’t know what we want.

Writer and philosopher Alain De Botton tweeted something last week that really made me think about my practice as a writer. He said, “What masterpieces we would have if writers accepted the need for daily practice and total sacrifice as the great athletes do.” Do you think there’s a certain half-heartedness from people entering a job that is based off creative talent?

Yeah, well I mean my old man said to me a while ago, “To be considered a genius, or an expert in your field, you need to dedicate 10,000 hours to it”. I mean, if you want to be a writer, you can’t just sit there. You need to be working all the time, but you can’t see it as work. Enjoy it.

You said in your article that after all your hard work, study and internship experience, you don’t expect a job at the end of it. What do you mean by that, and if you’re expecting nothing why are you continuing to pursue a creative career?

I don’t expect people to offer me a job, but I think that’s the attitude some people do have. Georgia’s comment was, “I have two degrees” and that’s wonderful, but it shouldn’t guarantee you a job. People have called me elitist for my comments, but really: thinking that having a university guarantees you a job? That’s an elitist comment. There is no silver platter.