Someone was telling me that a University here in Greece had a new policy on security guards. To save money, they’re firing all the security guards, and only keeping on those with masters degrees of PhDs.
Now, I don’t know if security is a more complex business here in Greece. But I thought it was more of your Cert IV kinda skill set – not a university degree.
And you can’t imagine someone’s invested in a PhD with the hope of cracking the security guard market. Something’s going wrong here.
And I think it goes to the heart of the crisis Greece is in – when you have an educated people, unable to find meaningful work.
And I’m not joking or trying to be punny when I say it’s a tragedy.
Take Olympia. She’s been our waitress at our favourite little café here in Mykonos. She’s mid-20s, bright and articulate, speaks perfect English, and has a masters degree in Social Work…
… and waits tables for lazy tourists like me.
If you think that’s a waste of potential, it is. It’s a waste of her talents and it’s a waste of the contribution she could have made to her country.
I’m not bagging working at a café mind you. For some people it’s great. For some it ties in with their lifestyle. Some have a passion for it.
But Olympia’s got no passion for her job. If she could be working in her field, she’d toss in her apron at the drop of the hat. No, it’s the economy that holds her here.
The youth (under 25) unemployment statistics in Greece are horrifying. At last count, 64.2 percent of people of working age under 25 didn’t have a job.
That means only 1 in 3 are working. It’s a depressing stat if you’re one of the two hoping to be one of the one. The numbers are against you.
It’s a tragedy in Greece, but it’s ugly across Europe.
This chart shows that youth unemployment is up to 56 percent in Spain, and up over 40 percent in Italy.
Only Germany have anything looking like a full employment rate for it’s youth – which again shows just how different the euro zone economies actually are from each other – and how hard it is to keep the wriggly bag of roosters that makes up the euro together.
If this isn’t a crisis, I don’t know what is. I believe the children are the future (because that’s logically true by definition). But if the future is being lumped with an erosion of productive skills as well as massive set-backs to their self-esteem, what will the future look like?
Normally, it’s the unskilled that have the hardest time finding work in a struggling economy. Again, this is almost true by definition. If you don’t have particular marketable skills, it makes you less marketable.
But it’s gone further than that in Greece and continental Europe. A full 30 percent of 20-35 year old Greeks are university educated. In Spain, it’s 40 percent. It’s the most educated generation in history, and it’s all going to waste.
Think of all that knowledge and energy embodied in those young minds – all that investment – just going to waste. Spectacular fruit left to rot on the tree.
I ask Olympia if she has any regrets about studying and studying so much.
“At first, I was happy with the choice. I enjoyed the topic, and I wanted to work in the field. Now I wonder if I should have studied something that could get me a job overseas. Like finance and commerce. Maybe medicine. If I had my time again…”
The irony is that Greek needs social workers now, perhaps more than ever. Six years into recession, on a lot of measures the crisis in Greece is topping the Great Depression in the US, and is lasting longer. With more and more people out of work, Greece is at risk of running into a humanitarian crisis as well.
“Sure, there’s lot of social work to do,” says Olympia. “But who’s going to pay for it? All the municipal governments are broke. There’s no money.”
And so how did Olympia, originally from Athens, end up waiting tables in Mykonos?
Here, being able to speak English gets you a lot further than any experience you have in hospitality. Olympia spent some time in the UK when she was younger, and had a knack for languages.
Today, it’s her saving grace. “If I couldn’t speak English, I don’t know what I’d be doing. I’d been looking for work for over a year in Athens, and couldn’t find anything. So I came here. But I don’t know what I’ll do when the season ends. I don’t want to think about it.”
Maybe she’ll go back to Athens and join the rest of her disaffected generation on the streets of Athens. She doesn’t look like the rock-throwing kind, but desperate times make for desperate people.
Or maybe she’ll just throw it all in and try her luck overseas. The numbers on the leakage of skilled and educated professionals out of Greece are staggering. A recent study by the University of Thessaloniki found that more than 120,000 professionals, including doctors, engineers and scientists, have left Greece since the start of the crisis in 2010.
That’s a real Brain Drain. And just when Greece could really use that talent. But who can blame them?
For some of the young here, unemployment is all they’ve known. And when you feel you can’t make a valued contribution to your society, it eats away at you. It scars you.
For their sake, and for the sake of Greece’s future, they need to get on top of this problem fast.
When your carers forget to care, and learn how to throw stones instead, you’ve got a real problem on your hands.