The Experience of Work and the Individual Trajectory

Generational belonging is inseparable from a specific experience of the labour market. If intergenerational differences can be very marked in terms of educational qualifications or gender, there are also strong differences in career trajectories—the transition from education to employment market, and the career path once in employment.

Differences of Trajectory

The changes in individual trajectories have been substantial, the life course and career path of older workers having been very different from those of young people today. Interviewees—the older ones especially—draw attention to differences at every stage: in the period of education and training, at the moment of entering work, of forming a family, in conditions of work. It is however the older workers who emphasise these differences between age groups. Their observations are ambivalent: on the one hand, young are said to have a more comfortable life, but on the other they see their employment status—rather than the content of work per se—as extremely problematic and unfair compared to how they themselves were treated when they started work more than 30 years earlier.

Older workers talk of upbringing, of the parents’ role as models for their children. Their own parents had suffered poor working conditions. The parents of today’s young people had enjoyed easier conditions of work and so it was quite understandable that they had passed on a distinctive way of thinking about work. A Belgian skilled worker in his 50s says:

Our parents, you know, they worked hard, and we learnt from that experience, they passed that experience on. With young people today it’s different. Myself, I look at how my father worked, how I work, it’s much more laid back today. Much more laid back today, conditions of work have changed. The benefits have changed, there are more than before.

Older workers also point at the fact that young workers have no experience of work as they begin their first employment, having just left education when they are taken on. Furthermore, they have never had great demands made of them at home, where in earlier days they might have gained their first experience of carrying out tasks. Other key changes have been in the time spent at school, and the role of the school in the upbringing of children. Almost 42 % of European workers under 30 left full-time education at the age of 21 or later, while only 25 % of the 50-and-overs did the same.18 For the EU-15 countries, the difference is even greater, the figures being 52 % of the young and 26 % for the old. The situation is similar in the six countries investigated here, though the differences vary: in Germany, 56 % of the under-30s and 32 % of the 50-and-overs left full-time education at the age of 21 or later, in Belgium 53 % and 40 %, in France 38 % and 22 %, in Hungary 36 % and 15 %, in Italy 38.5 % and 19 % and in Portugal 34 % and 8 %.

On the other hand, these observations need to be tempered by consideration of the increasing prevalence of student employment, which while not yet as common as it is in Quebec and the rest of North America is nonetheless a growing reality in Europe. In France, 17 % of the young people who took part in the “Generation 2004” survey had had a regular job while a student, while 70 % had done “holiday jobs or casual work”. According to a survey of more than a thousand workers under 30 carried


out in French-speaking Belgium in 2007,[1] [2] one respondent in two had worked “regularly” as a student before taking up their present employment, 29 % had done so “sometimes” and 22 % had never had a job while studying. Student employment thus represents a form of occupational socialisation for a good number of young people. More common among young people who undertook lengthy studies, it further exacerbates the difference in skills portfolio between them and those who did not.

  • [1] Eckert, “Les jeunes, les etudes”, pp. 237—243.
  • [2] Patricia Vendramin, LesJeunes, le Travail etTEmploi. Enquete aupres des salaries de moins de 30ansen Belgique francophone (Namur: FTU/Jeunes CSC, 2007)
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