Words || Jodie Ramodien
Ibis are about as iconic to the Macquarie Uni campus as Pablo & Rusty’s coffee, Thursday drinks at Ubar, and stock pictures of students sitting cross-legged opposite Macquarie Lake — to the first year students, the lake is that big watery thing hidden behind the Wally’s Walk construction site.
In the decade following the founding of Macquarie University in 1964, Threskiornis molucca, alternatively known as ‘Sacred Ibis’ or ‘Bin Chicken,’ tentatively placed a four-toed step on Macquarie grounds for the first time. Their natural wetland habitat having been destroyed by poor water management and drought, this species assimilated to its urban environment, taking advantage of the pockets of grasslands and abundance of free bin-food. While Australian birds are characteristically daring, not all have adapted to city living. As Damien Cave notes in his NYT article “Sydney Is for the Birds. The Bigger and Bolder, the Better,” the characteristics of “competitiveness, an obsession with real estate and the ability to adapt,” is what is required in order to survive.
As it stands right now, at the culmination of an undergraduate Arts degree, I feel like a little baby ibis that has been kicked out into the chaos and uncertainty of “the real world” — not literally of course, statistically speaking as a millenial I’ll move out at 31. If you are of the Gen Y or Gen Z variety, you may have heard in passing the phrases “changing media landscape” and “people with degrees can’t get jobs, panic!”
This prospect, whilst terrifying to most graduates, places a special kind of fear into the hearts of those who have studied humanities and creative arts — film, television, music, visual, performing and literary arts. The running gag is that we’ll all inevitably end up serving some kind of fast food and scribbling bad poetry onto the corner of napkins. The path to success in these types of careers is atypical. Guidance is non-existent, instead an entrepreneurial spirit and self-navigation are what define us. A complete disregard for other people’s opinions helps with the fear that your novel, spec script, or one-woman-play — La La Land is an apt name — is worth the time, effort, and risk. Before I even began to consider the notion that I could make it as a writer I fully dedicated myself to preparing a backup plan with “safer” employment outcomes.
It’s easy to martyr ourselves and our profession as taking a physical, mental, and financial toll, to personify the cliché of “the starving artist.” Something about art feels transcendent. Walking into The Sistine Chapel, observing Goya’s ‘Saturn Devouring His Son,’ or my personal favourite, Monet’s ‘Sunrise,’ elicits a visceral reaction. In order to understand how the humble human can rise to such artistic heights we often look at what their lives were like. So many great artists were punished for their progressive opinions, struggled with mental illness, had a lack of funds, and took their own lives. In a modern context, excessive drinking, drugs, and a string of broken relationships, are all hallmarks of suffering that give artists what Elizabeth Gilbert ironically calls “the badge of my creative legitimacy.” This kind of lifestyle will get you a biopic and an early death. No other field romanticizes self-sabotage quite like the Arts.
Like the ibis, the millennial is a misunderstood creature. Being a millenial in tandem with being an Arts student feels like testing fate. The fictional equivalent to many of us is Rory Gilmore from Gilmore Girls. Though not everyone is as white or rich as Rory, English Literature students can relate to her love of books and aspirations of being a writer. In the original run of the series Rory did almost everything right; she studied hard, went to Yale, and graduated at the end of the series with what appeared to be a bright future. The revival, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, gives us a new Rory, this time around she is the embodiment of the millennial crisis: “I have no job, I have no money, I have no underwear!”
An (unfounded) stereotype is that millennials are entitled, delusional, narcissistic, unfocused, and easily distracted by “free food and bean bags.” The unfortunate result of having parents that made us think we were “special” — how dare they! These are the misinformed words of Simon Sinek whose interview has over 11 million views and is the first video to pop up on Youtube if you search the term “millennials.” Both Sinek and I have used the term “millenial” with a blatant disregard for any kind of intersectionality. When speaking of millennials in this context, the people being referred to are typically middle class, tertiary educated, and living in a first-world country.
Many of the perspectives regarding millennials are outrightly false. Osman Faruqi’s SBS article ‘Let’s stop the Millennial bashing’ combats some of these assumptions. In regard to our financial situation he notes that “when university fees were introduced in 1989, a law degree would have set you back around $8,000. If you graduate this year  with a law degree, you’ll be saddled with a debt of $40,000 or more. No other generation in Australian history has entered the workforce this financially burdened.” Faruqi also points to ABS data which shows that “not only are more young adults working now than in the 1970s, a higher proportion are working more than 40 hours a week… the data suggests we’re actually the hardest working generation in at least the last half century.” Typically these 40 hours are comprised from different jobs as full-time work has been increasingly hard to find for those entering the workforce.
Yet our youth and creative field of study may be what gives us an edge in the changing job market. In 2016 the Foundation for Young Australians’ (FYA) analysed 4.2 million job ads and revealed that “since 2012 the demand for digital skills has increased by more than 200%, critical thinking by more than 150%, creativity by more than 60%, and presentation skills by 25%.”
The types of jobs available have also drastically changed over the decades. Up until the 1950s you could be a professional “knocker upper.” While that sounds like a role for particularly virile men impregnating women, it actually refers to knocking on someone’s door or window to wake them up. By comparison the number of “hybrid jobs” are expected to double from 2016 to 2026. Hybrid jobs combine traditional skills from a range of different disciplines as well as “new age” skills such as coding, data science, and data analytics.
With multiple internships, jobs, and volunteering experience, capability with social media, and having grown up with the internet and thereby excelling at computer literacy, millennials and the younger Gen Z are the perfect candidates for hybrid jobs and the future of the workforce. “Competitiveness, an obsession with real estate and the ability to adapt.” No that’s not advice from a job website, it’s the aforementioned way of the ibis, and we’ll need to learn from them if we want to survive Sydney’s housing prices.