Researcher and Edgeryder Rebecca Collins has been compiling and analyzing the mission reports provided by Edgeryders with her colleague Valentina Cuzzocrea. The use of categorization and tagging of the texts would provide the Council of Europe, promoter of the project, with a set of characteristics taken from the community that would, hopefully, help to understand the needs and interests of its members, and that could be up to a certain point extrapolated to the rest of the population.
Truth is, the Edgeryders community is far more than a sample of the European youth, as could be easily noticed in the enormous age range the attendants to the Living on the Edge conference demonstrated. It does seem, however, that what the age categorisation cannot profile is compensated by certain common characteristics shared by many in the community: nonconformists, driven, full of ideas and willing to set up projects based on such ideas, the Edgeryders community is one made up by people that, in many ways, like to really “live on the edge”.
Also, the goal of this session was to present to the community another of the goals of the Edgeryders project: the creation of a transition handbook with recommendations for policy makers.
The presentation of the study based on the Edgeryders site data touched several aspects shared by at least part of the community, of which we can indicate:
- Work: stances on work and experiences in employment are generally negative, at least in traditional jobs. Many Edgeryders try to either start their own initiatives or use work solely as a way to pay the bills, with personal and skills development occurring outside of work life. Faced with the choice, and with the plummeting employment market around Europe, Edgeryders would rather do the work they like than enter the labour market. There seems to be also a divided perception between work and employment, employment seen as either exploitation or frustration. Work, on the other hand, considered as what one does, is valued in itself. That would explain the preeminence of reports in the platform that talk about projects made by Edgeryders, often for little or no monetary gain, and the small representation traditional jobs get in it.
- The life paradigm: concern is shown for the conciliation of family life with work, for the diminishing public health care systems and for the likelihood of finding a place to live. Peculiarly, not many reports dealt with pensions or retirement. This can be due to two main reasons: the difficulties in dealing with the present and the youth of most members of the community, which would make the prospect of retirement a long-term concern, and thus of diminished perceived importance.
- The perception of institutions: the perception of state and public institutions is generally not of a positive note. States as such have far-reaching powers that can affect the life of all citizens, and it is perceived that their decisions tend to curtail initiatives instead of enabling them. Also, public institutions are perceived as out of reach, difficult to communicate and deal with. Access to funding for projects is perceived as overly complicated, slow and often plain inaccessible, and that often the funds end up in the wrong hands. Combined with this there’s a growing political awareness and activism that, however, avoids traditional power structures.
- The transition process: transitioning to an independent life is complicated, as will be seen below, and the Edgeryders community tackles such transition differently. The main values shown integrity, the unwillingness to sell out and the need for a coherent trajectory, passion, the need to do something one likes, and autonomy, the willingness to go alone when needed.
Another element considered in the profiling is the perceived risks and the responses developed by members of the community.
Of course, a fear to fail in the transition to an independent life is always present. Precariousness is, after all, a very real risk in the work life of young people (and, increasingly, in all age ranges), and both job insecurity and the current socio-economic climate threaten all around.
Exploitation, and the low value attributed to temp jobs and/or internships is another common risk, as the labour market becomes more and more unstable. There is the very real possibility of spending years going from unpaid internship to unpaid internship, or becoming stuck in part-time jobs to pay the bills for a few months at a time, in an endless chain of precariousness.
The criminalisation of some solutions members of the community find (such as occupying spaces, either to live or to develop their projects), and the likelihood of being forced to do something unwanted (such as having to accept low paying jobs forcefully) is another element of concern, and further increases the distrust of members of the community for state structures.
Having a very diversified career path (doing one thing and then a completely different one) makes it difficult to classify the person in a recognisable manner by potential employers, and with that comes the risk of marginalisation. Of course, with that also comes the opportunity of taking one’s own way in life, which may not guarantee security but provides a sense of independence that surely will help in the uncertain future.
As for solutions, the creation of an own form of value, be it via self-employment, the use of alternative currencies or fighting against institutions offering unpaid job positions are quite prominent. Along with it, the support from networks, be they family, friends or otherwise, can facilitate at least part of the financial and material problems Edgeryders face. This is, however, a complicated solution, and often taken as a temporary measure to pass a difficult moment. However, if society’s situation does not improve (and right now it does not quite look like it will) this format of survival will become increasingly long-term, and create risks of its own.
Another solution is the community-based approach. While Edgeryders in general are basically independent and tend to look for problem solving in themselves instead of relying on others, the context in which they develop their careers is seen as a social, quite often global, community of peers. The use of online social networks facilitates the exchange of information, the creation of allies and the participation in common projects from anywhere in the world, and this creates an enormous potential for exponential growth, both for the individual and for the community at large.
Resources-wise, the community bases much of its effort on other people. Allies, and the so-called social capital, are crucial to Edgeryders to carry out their initiatives. Institutions can also be considered potential allies, but of course the generalised mistrust in them must be overcome first.
Learning, the acquisition of skills, is more diverse than ever before, and more polemic than it has ever been. Higher education is seen with a certain reticence, as it is perceived that the skills formal education provides are not those actually useful in the world at large. On the other hand, collaborative learning is seen by institutions and companies with mistrust, while at the same time is the one most likely to produce tangible results and useful skills for an adaptable transition.
Finally, institutional funding to start projects is problematic to access, as projects are often not understood or do not fit in the institutional funding structures.
All this creates an environment where youth in Europe may be highly creative and motivated, but find almost insurmountable complications to realize their dreams and hopes. This is nothing new, in fact, and has happened in prior generations as well, but the lack of an adequate employment infrastructure in current Europe makes the simple dream of getting a job and getting by a practical impossibility. Against this, the response of the Edgeryders community is going on their own and proposing solutions and responses to current problems.
For that, the Edgeryders project, a prototype of society communicating with policy makers will need enabling policy spaces, that is, fora where ideas can be put and real solutions obtained. The community has shown its responsiveness already.
When the idea of the transition handbook was presented, and considering it is still a project in the making, the attendants to the conference immediately proposed co-creating the contents of the book. It stood to reason that, if the contents of the Edgeryders platform had been created by the community, the community should be responsible as well for the contents of the document that would be presented to the policy makers.
How this will end only time will tell, and there is a likely possibility that several transition handbooks appear if the community supports their creation. Knowledge, after all, is there for the taking, and the paths to explore for the future are manifold.
What do you think? What paths are out there waiting to be discovered? Have you already found one?