Global Village Idiot: Upwardly mobile movement of youth aspirations

Updated on Sep 02, 2022 04:07 PM IST

Indian youth in general and Pune youth across the socio-economic spectrum seem to have moved their aspirations from rural to urban transition and from developing to developed economy transition

The upper middle class job seeker is on premium sites while those from HNI backgrounds (High Networth Individual) are likely to have their own head hunters or a career track planned in high school. (REPRESENTATIVE PHOTO)
The upper middle class job seeker is on premium sites while those from HNI backgrounds (High Networth Individual) are likely to have their own head hunters or a career track planned in high school. (REPRESENTATIVE PHOTO)
BySanjay Mukherjee

My work gives me opportunity to interact with a lot of teens and young adults from different economic and social backgrounds in Pune. Last week, I was talking to yet another teenager trying to figure out how to plan a career, and it suddenly struck me that the world has changed significantly since I was a teen. The teenager in question lives in Baner and has just enrolled for Bachelor of Science in Computers with a focus on Artificial Intelligence and now he’s looking for a part-time job as a trainee programmer. Also, last week, a chance conversation with another teenager (from Aundh) who has just cleared her Class 10 boards was also interesting. She’s picked her subjects keeping in mind that her goal is to get into medical school. Both are from economically challenged backgrounds (annual family income of less than 2 lakh for a family of five) but their parents are supportive of their education dreams since they want them to move out of the rural and menial labour heritage to urban, white collar job security.

This is in contrast to what some other Pune teens I know are aiming for. Like a bunch of girls and boys who are playing soccer and basketball with the serious intent to get into a professional sports club either in India or Europe. There are a few who have already launched their own company while still in high school, and others who are following paths to careers in art, music, entrepreneurship, sustainable development, ethical hacking, design, basketball, research, among many new emerging fields. I even know of a young girl who completed her media studies and is now specialising as a media writer on K-drama. That one is particularly inspiring for me.

I started working as a 16-year-old. My first job was an internship as a newspaper delivery boy with a sales responsibility: I had to sell subscriptions for a newly launched newspaper in a territory that was assigned to me as a paper route. Now that may sound glamorous, but it wasn’t. The task was simple enough: listen to the team leader every morning, pick up a bundle of newspapers, go to the buildings allocated, deliver the newspapers to every door, and ask if they would want to subscribe for the newspaper. The stipend was pathetic (150 bucks for the month which covered bus fare back and forth from our housing colony), but that was not really the focus.

We were from middle-class families, convent school educated (most of the interns had a similar background). The idea of going door to door for anything was tailor-made to make us squirm. I suspect that was precisely the reason my parents thought it was a good idea - one of their favourite lectures was about the dignity of labour.

I was the youngest among the 12 interns, and more preoccupied with worrying about how many newspapers I was given and how many apartments I was allocated. I was already out of all my comfort zones. We lived in a huge housing society - it was like a simulated world within the real world (except in those days, there were no commercial shops within the society walls, like there is today in some cities).

Anyway, the first day, I visited three buildings, delivered 29 newspapers, and sold one subscription. I had 21 newspapers left. The team leader looked at me and shook his head. “You must deliver all the newspapers. That’s the first step. If they don’t see the newspaper, how will they decide whether to subscribe or not, hmm?”

That made sense. My buddy intern had delivered most of her papers and had managed six subscriptions as well. There were three interns who had sold more than 20 subscriptions each. But most of them were not happy with the job. And if I hadn’t been preoccupied with my own troubles, I would have been similarly uncomfortable. At the back of my mind, I saw flashes of the situations they were all discussing, from my own experiences of the day: People shooing you away from the door, people being downright rude and angry at having to answer questions at 6.30 in the morning, and people simply refusing to take the free newspaper. That kind of treatment and experience would have usually been enough for me to take up something more suited to my middle-class sensibilities.

Back home that evening, most of our family and friends were in awe that we had survived the day, proven our mettle, and they all figured we would now get back to our usual routine now that that was out of the way. Next morning, I was back at work.

That experience led me to take up many other jobs and helped me decide not to pursue a ‘career’ but to pick up skills and take up work that I wanted to do, that helped me grow and where I contributed to society in some small way.

Getting back to the teens in Pune now, the change I see is that youngsters from poor and low-income groups are aiming for what middle class youngsters used to aim for when I was a kid: bachelor’s and masters and stable jobs in engineering, medicine, administration. The average middle class kid with international school education today is thinking lifestyle careers: business, professional services, consulting, education, management, art and so on. They know they can access higher education at any point later.

If you scan job sites, the data is interesting. A popular site logs more than 50,000 jobs on offer in September itself, of which more than 50% are in engineering, information technology and information security. What’s even more interesting is that job sites are also highly niche now. The upper middle class job seeker is on premium sites while those from HNI backgrounds (High Networth Individual) are likely to have their own head hunters or a career track planned in high school.

Indian youth in general and Pune youth across the socio-economic spectrum seem to have moved their aspirations from rural to urban transition and from developing to developed economy transition. And that’s sort of a report card on government policy over the past decade. A positive report card I’d say.

Sanjay Mukherjee, author, learning-tech designer and management consultant, is founder of Mountain Walker and chief strategy advisor, Peak Pacific. He can be reached at thebengali@icloud.com

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