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My generation: flexibility is key

Picture: Kathrin Biegner

My friends and me - on different paths than our parents

Emmy wrote that people increasingly need to be better qualified to find jobs in Kenya. The situation in Kenya is different from that in Germany, of course. But here we young people also need more and more qualifications to get a good job – and many of us actually have these credentials. I talked with my girlfriends about how our educational training and our lives as a whole have changed compared with our parents’. We have been friends for years. Some of us even went to the same kindergarten, so we were educated in the German school system at the same time.
Five of us finished Gymnasium with an Abitur, a diploma that allowed us to study at a university afterwards. And two of my friends first finished at a Realschule and then did their Abitur at a Gymnasium specializing in economics (here I wrote more about the German school system). Afterwards, they finished vocational training. One of them now studies on the weekends alongside her job.

The majority of our parents, in contrast, didn’t study at university. Four of us are the first ones in their families to go on to college. But this is not the rule in Germany. If you take 100 children whose parents didn’t go to college, 24 will go on to university themselves. But when you look at 100 children of academics, statistics show that 71 of them will attend university.

But our academic degrees aren’t the only difference between our education and that of our parents. Six of us have studied abroad or worked while travelling in another country (Pavel wrote more here about gap years). No wonder that all of us speak English decently. That is a contrast to our parents: Most of them know only a little English. But, after all, they didn’t need it for being successful in their jobs anyway. Often our fathers earned enough money to support their families. Thus, our mothers didn’t have to work full time and could care for us children.

While we learn, live abroad, and make plans for our free time, our parents had very different worries at our age − particularly the ones who didn’t study. My father had already bought a house when he was my age. My mother had just had her second child; her first one − me − was already four years old. None of us seven friends bear that much responsibility. All of us are unmarried, and no one of has a child or a house.

Picture: Kathrin Biegner

Our generation has been taught to be flexible and mobile

After all, why should we plan on building a house? We, the young work force, are supposed to be flexible and willing to move. One of my friends, for instance, was told at the beginning of her training for becoming a teacher that, after finishing their training, the future teachers wouldn’t be able to choose where they work. The state would appoint them to schools they would be needed at. Whether they had a house in another city wouldn’t play a role. Of course, things aren’t very different when it comes to the private sector, but at least you can choose your employer more freely.

I don’t want to say that this is negative. We are enjoying these freedoms that have also been made possible by our parents. It is great to speak English fluently and to have lived in different places worldwide. At the same time, it’s amazing how much our way of planning our future has changed from that of our parents, how many more unknown variables we must deal with. While our parents thought already in their mid-20s that they would become old in the town they had been born in, some of us don’t even know what the five next years will bring.

Ultimately, I don’t think it’s just more qualifications that the job market demands – but also more flexibility.


June 4, 2012 | 12:51 pm





  • I admire the flexibility that you guys have. Generations are evolving fast. I wonder what our grandchildren or those of that generation will say about us!


  • That’s just what I thougt. Since things are chaning even more quickly now than during the last twenty years, I guess the next generation will deal with totally new challenges that we can’t predict today.

  • […] Several weeks ago I read an interesting column in a daily business newspaper where famous and respected economist Konstantin Sonin touched upon university ratings. The professor’s argument astonished me because he compared the Russian higher education system with its foreign counterparts and went on to say ranking Russian universities at all has basically no point! The reason, he said, is that in our country most university departments offer students a strictly fixed number of courses and disciplines, while there is more variety available to students in other countries. Those models let students adapt their studies to their interests, for example, and it can help them make the transition to working life more smoothly. Kathrin also talked about how this kind of flexibility is important to young people here. […]

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