In the first teaser from KYD issue 25, Jane Caro considers the modern-day workplace. Fear about career prospects and security is spreading like an epidemic among the younger and older generations. What can we do to change the culture of work in Australia?
When I left school in 1974 there was full employment. I was aware of little anxiety around the HSC at both my school – admittedly a fairly laid-back comprehensive public one – and in my family. My parents never hassled me about school or homework. It was my responsibility to do it, or not. The school didn’t hassle us, either: they offered us the chance to learn, but whether we did or not was up to us.
I passed in spite of this appalling neglect and went to Macquarie University to do a straight BA majoring in English Literature. I had vague hopes of getting into advertising. My friends similarly went to uni or tech. Some went straight into jobs. It being the era of the hippie, some drove Volkswagen Kombi vans up the coast and surfed. I don’t know how they supported themselves – a combination of selling marijuana and the dole, I suppose.
What I remember most was how relaxed we all were. (Admittedly, this may have had something to do with all that marijuana.) My boyfriend (now husband) worked in a variety of jobs from petrol-station attendant to council worker, despite – or perhaps because of – his expensive private-school education. Eventually, when he got bored, he got himself a reps job at Cadbury Schweppes and began rising through the ranks. The jobs were there, if and when we wanted them.
Little did we realise we were the lucky tail-enders of the baby boom. My sister, who is eighteen months younger than I am, enjoyed the same relatively easy ride. She trained as a history teacher but got a junior job at 3M, which made among other things Scotch-Brite, and then moved into publishing when she got bored with the world of sticky tape.
Ten per cent of school leavers got a university degree in those days and we were in demand, no matter our discipline or our marks. I received an ordinary degree, but no one seemed to care.