Chickens come home to roost as recession bites


With unemployment soaring, graduates and their parents have little choice but to lower their sights, writes ORNA MULCAHY.

‘DO YOU realise there’s a recession going on!" a friend shrieked down the phone to her 18 year old who right now is inter-railing across Europe with a borrowed grand in her back pocket and seemingly no intention of coming home. But come home she must, having flunked her first-year exams at university.

She needs to cram for the repeats, but meanwhile she deserves a First in delaying tactics: so far she’s avoided having a full conversation with either parent due to a series of bad lines, her phone being temporarily lost or out of credit.

On this occasion she pulls a master stroke: “I’m in Auschwitz, you’re not supposed to talk,” as she disconnected the call.

“And to think we spent summers topping turnips,” my friend says, bitter with the prospect of spending the next month supervising study and paying for grinds.

What seems to have happened to my friend is this: having worked all the hours since leaving college nigh on 30 years ago, she now finds herself keeping an expensive show on the road: her children are hitting college just as fees are about to be reintroduced, though the transition will be seamless, since she is already paying hefty school fees. This summer, it would have helped if one or all of her teenagers had gotten a job, but suddenly there are no summer jobs to be had. Instead they and their friends have been hanging around each others’ houses, raiding each others’ fridges. A part-time job, it seems, is harder to get than a place in medicine.

In better times, these entitled youngsters might have been enrolled in back to back sailing, tennis, golf and horse riding courses, designed to ease their way into affluent adulthood. This year, the urgency to acquire such life skills has ebbed a little. Hamstrung by the recession, middle-class parents can no longer afford to fund endless activities or life-enhancing travels abroad. Instead, they themselves are rushing out to work, imploring their teens to get up out of bed and do something for the day, or at least tidy their room.

Then there are the parents who thought they had their children sorted out but who are now finding the chickens coming home to roost. Kids suddenly unemployed is another alarming development in the suburbs.

In the UK, where jobless youth have passed the million mark, they’re calling them Neets – young people who are Not in Education, Employment or Training. Yikes. Who would want one of those around the house? Fully grown adults with qualifications but few prospects, and possibly dwindling self-esteem?

With unemployment soaring, these graduates, and their parents, have little choice but to lower their sights. With swathes of high-earning jobs evaporating in the recession, graduates will have to compete for low paying jobs they might once have considered beneath them. This painful adjustment is a worldwide phenomenon.

In Japan, young women with strings of qualifications are being forced back into the business of hostessing in nightclubs, while in South Korea, according to the New York Times, graduates are queuing up for lowly jobs like crab fishing, and back-rubbing, a popular treatment once assigned to the lowest tier of workers. Here, the word is that the graduates with top qualifications who might previously have glided into jobs in accountancy, marketing and the like are now having to settle for . . . childcare.

The era of having to go to Manila or Rio de Janeiro for a nanny may be at an end, with young Irish women prepared once again to work in creches or even as household help.

Jonathan Murphy, of the College of Progressive Education (previously the School of Childcare) in Blackrock, confirms the trend, saying that the school has seen an upsurge in applicants in the last year. “We have seen a lot of people who are very well qualified, from banking and finance in general wanting to get into childcare, going for the softer career. There are cases where people followed a certain training path for a while, maybe because their parents wanted them to go into it, and now they are more comfortable doing this.”

Childminding is an excellent start in life. At least it was for me. Au pairing in Italy taught me the rudiments of Italian cookery, while a long stint with a family in Paris provided valuable life lessons in relationships – the women of the apartment block gathered every day to spill the beans on their husbands, lovers and in-laws – and how to shop on a shoestring. Even now when I have a job with its own desk, computer and membership of the office biscuit club, I sometimes hanker for the life of the paid domestic, preferably in an interesting location.

Recently a small ad in Country Lifemagazine caught my eye. “Couple wanted, to look after a truly spectacular villa in the Greek islands. Duties will include household cleaning, basic maintenance, managing the local villa staff, running a budget and looking after high profile guests. Excellent living conditions and lifestyle.”

I mean what is wrong with that as a job? Neets take note. Careers have to start somewhere and if your parents are weary of your company, there are households out there that could do with an extra pair of hands.

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