Sarah has always dreamed of working in the fashion industry. Aged 21, he decided to follow his dream, moving to London and finding a career he loved. “Like many young people, my passion is fashion,” he said. “But the reality is not so glamorous.”
After working less than a year in fashion retail, Sarah landed a role as an e-commerce assistant at the headquarters of a global luxury brand. In both jobs, she is surrounded by twenty like-minded people, all of whom want to succeed in the world of fashion. “It’s like any other creative industry: young people always think it’s cool to work,” he says. “And the perks are great, even on sale: we always get items at a huge discount.”
However, Sarah adds that office turnover is always high – especially among lower level staff. “Young employees would quit all the time: an 18-year-old apprentice survived only a week after realizing that her job was essentially unpaid manual labour, and hours just carrying and packing clothes returned from photoshoots. An apprenticeship that lasts months will eventually quit burnout. There is just a steady churn of impressionable young workers and nothing is ever done about it – it just becomes a test of who has the thickest skin.
While Sarah stays in her job for two years, the joys of working in fashion soon give way to frustration and boredom: “An admin job with long hours and a lousy paycheck.” With no management to offer a clear career trajectory or sense of progress, he says his job ultimately brought him down — he quit. “Both management and employees know that this is a competitive workplace – that your work will always be in demand. If you leave, you will be replaced by another young worker who is excited to be there.”
Experts say there are many employers specifically hiring recent graduates looking to pursue their passion – often in competitive, even ‘glamorous’ careers. In some cases, this is great for these workers, who are looking for a way to enter their dream industry. Sometimes, however, young employees may find themselves in low-paying, demanding roles, because employers know that vacancies will always be highly desirable. This situation can leave early career workers hoping to establish themselves, leaving them vulnerable to burnout or disappointment early in their careers.
‘Uncovered by experience’
Many jobs are set up with the expectation that younger workers will grow into them. Often there is a clear path for promotion and goals to be achieved; sometimes companies even offer mentorship and development programs to guide entry-level employees up the ladder. While climbing can be hard work, many employers want to invest in workers to stay with the organization.
But experts say there are other companies that are taking a different tack – setting up an infrastructure where they hire young employees who have little, if any, opportunity to move up, and then overload them with demanding tasks. In these situations, employers often hope that these young workers will leave the organization at some point – whether it is because they are at an impasse or they have exhausted themselves from the position. Then, they are generally replaced by other young workers, who share the same fate.