Generation Jobless? Continuing the discussion…

I read a blog post recently that I haven’t been able to shake. It has occupied a permanent place in my mind and I don’t think I’ll feel satisfied until I feel that solutions are being generated and shared and the discussion reaches levels and channels capable of introducing change and action.

The post, written by career advisor David Lindskoog (The Day Job), resonated with me because I felt like the written text flowed directly from my own brain. It reflected my position exactly and the conflict that I struggle with…

which is essentially the conflict that exists in our society between the value of higher education and the needs and realities of the job market.

I’ve been asking myself…

  • Are we as a society doing enough to prepare young people for their careers?
  • Is our education system flexible enough to account for the current state of the labour market? Should it be?
  • Is there something more we can be doing to match the needs of the job market and our economy with the skills and qualifications of our young people?

My hope is that we can pool our thoughts on this and make a commitment to  continue this important conversation.

Here is the debate in a nutshell…

On the one side, you have those who argue for drastic changes in the way our educational system operates. Proponents have looked at the high unemployment rate of young people in Canada (15% of 15-29 year olds) coupled with the high rates of student debt and have decided that something is broken with the system. In other words, students who are pursuing higher education do so under the assumption that it will land them a good job, but in reality are left struggling to discover how they fit into the world of work. This of course is not true for all degrees, but is seeming to affect more and more young people. Take teachers for example. In Canada, they are competing for scarce opportunities. Yet professional schools are accepting the same numbers of applicants, or more. This gap between supply and demand is at the heart of the debate. For more on this, take a look at this CBC documentary.

On the other side, you have those who argue that a higher education is invaluable and that our system is producing quality graduates capable of filling required roles in the labour market. Proponents argue that people with a higher education will earn more over the course of their lives, will develop essential skills like critical thinking and analysis that will benefit society as a whole, and point to more specific numbers showing that the unemployment rate of recent grads (25-29 year olds) is only 6%. And over the course of history, it’s an unfortunate fact that some graduating classes are simply faced with worse economic circumstances than others and this is not likely to change any time soon. Furthermore, although it is not the role of the institution to be in the business of career planning and development, most, if not all, institutions offer career services departments to assist with students’ transition to work after graduation. It is, of course, up to the student to take advantage of this service or not. For more on this side of the argument, take a look at a rebuttal to the aforementioned documentary.

I fall somewhere in the middle of these two positions. The bottom line in my opinion is that we can always be making improvements.

As for improvements, I first want to share a couple of ideas proposed by the author of the original blog post:

  1. Employ career counsellors in high schools to address the specific career planning needs of students early in the career decision making process
  2. Make practicum or internship opportunities mandatory as part of university degrees so that students will have the opportunity to put their knowledge to the test and try out a job in their field of interest

I think these ideas are a great place to start. Placing career counsellors at the heart of it all, in a position to influence young people at a critical point in their lives, would probably greatly assist guidance counsellors who are overworked as it is. Students would get the career help they need and guidance counsellors’ time can be freed up for other important roles within the school. Another less costly alternative might be for school boards to outsource career counsellors at critical points in the students’ career planning process. Even if students meet once a year with their career counsellor, this could be an improvement, and can afford them the specific career guidance and resources they need to make informed decisions about where to go and what to do next.

Furthermore, mandatory internships also address a critical need for true exposure to a profession at an influential and pivotal point in the career decision making process. I would even argue that mandatory internships might also work well at the high school level since co-ops are already available at many schools but some students may avoid them in favour of trying to acquire the necessary credits they need to move on to their post-secondary program of choice. What I’m saying is that co-ops are not valued as much as obtaining credits (currently) and that implementation of a mandatory program at the high school level might be easier logistically if some of the infrastructure, so to speak, is already available. And if full time or even contract career counsellors are available to help set everything up for the student, then we have additional support for this solution.

I’d like to end on a positive note because I think (hope!) we’re on the brink of something big and that slowly but surely steps will be taken to address this important topic.

The newly appointed leader of the Ontario provincial government, Kathleen Wynne, has promised to employ measures to better prepare students for the labour market. Her government has pledged to

“work with educators, colleges, business and industry to expand student work placements, internships and co-op programs.”

This is a good start…at a high level. But we also need real ideas and real solutions to set the wheels in motion.

Share your ideas and help us keep this discussion going…

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Wake up call: Are we providing enough support for our students?

Media outlets were covering a story yesterday that really got me thinking. It was based on a census survey report released by the Toronto District School Board that highlighted student perceptions of their experiences at school in a number of areas including:

  • safety
  • teachers
  • extra-curriculars
  • support
  • skills
  • health
  • well-being

TDSB study

Some of the findings are enlightening and positive but others indicate a need for improvement and funding to address critical areas in which we might be failing our teens and leaving them ill-equipped to prepare for the future.

Thankfully this survey has been conducted so that administrators and government can take a closer look at the pressures and realities teens are facing these days and hopefully put measures in place to address them.

A whopping 103,000 students in the Toronto region from grades 7-12 participated in the study. I’ve listed a summary of findings that stood out to me below. I focused mainly on results highlighting the well-being and support aspects of high school students surveyed.

  • 69% feel supported by their teachers
  • 93% feel that school adults treat them the same or better than everyone else

But…

  • 46% do not have a school adult that they feel comfortable to go to for personal support, advice, or help
  • Only 62% feel hopeful about the future
  • 73% are worried about the future
  • 57% sometimes or often lose sleep because of worries
  • 66% report being sometimes or often under a lot of stress
  • 72% report being sometimes or often nervous/anxious

As I mentioned, the above findings are based on high school students’ perceptions, but unfortunately, findings for middle school aged students follow a similar pattern.

Although these findings are pretty dreary, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

First, the Board is collecting this data to inform and address their Mental Health Strategy. I think they will find this data very helpful in establishing policies and guidelines aimed at helping students deal with and overcome some of these issues. I’ll be curious to follow up and learn more about their strategy.

Also, I discovered an excerpt within the report that warmed my heart and made me want to give this student a big hug. It also helps to add some context to the survey results and reminds us that subjective feedback and comments can provide rich information to guide future plans and strategy.

The excerpt I’m referring to (page 52) is from a secondary student’s letter to the Board giving recommendations for improving his/her school environment and experience.

I loved it. It was perfect and I hope the Board considers these suggestions and continues to seek feedback from the students themselves. Here are the student’s recommendations…

  1. make gym class mandatory for every grade
  2. help students learn skills via mandatory or optional credits to help them be successful in the real world, like “people skills, money management, and developing an area of creativity or passion
  3. create a higher standard for teachers – “what is the point of an amazing curriculum if the teacher can’t capture the interest of the student?”
  4. make it mandatory to join at least two extracurricular clubs or teams “real learning exists outside of the classroom…these can all provide lifelong lessons…many students are afraid to join clubs or sports teams because they are insecure about their body or do not know anyone else on the club/team”

What brilliant suggestions. I hope the Board considers them.

What suggestions do you have for supporting students and improving their school experiences?

 

Is money really everything?

liberal artsThere’s something to be said for intrinsic reward. Simply doing something for your own interest and satisfaction versus financial gain.

I was about to delve into yet another post on a list of high paying jobs, when I realized that this list of hot jobs from U.S. News & World Report, like so many others, is heavily populated with STEM jobs.

I realized the topic of high paying STEM jobs was getting a bit stale and frankly not a news flash at this point. We all know by now that STEM careers will be lucrative and highly in demand.

But will they make you happy?

Of course they will if you are intrigued and energized by science, technology, engineering, and/or math. I would venture to say that even if you are only remotely interested in these subjects, then this list is worth more than just a cursory glance.

(and really, you should check it out, because there are several non-STEM jobs on the list such as Art Director, Marketing Manager, and Veterinarian)

So, we’ve established now that the list is actually quite good, but it got me thinking about the different factors we consider when choosing a career. I think it’s important not to get lured in by the money and positive job outlook at the expense of your own personal interest, satisfaction, and prosperity.

There are lots of other options out there that can satisfy both intrinsic and extrinsic needs.

I stumbled across this article on Aol jobs this morning, and knew that it was the missing piece in a string of posts that have been leaning heavily in the STEM direction.

The Liberal Arts stream can also lead to a rewarding career. In more ways than one. In fact, this article points to findings that indicate that Liberal Arts students are as satisfied or more satisfied with their lives as their peers who are studying in other areas.

I think the bottom line reinforced in this article as well as another excellent Forbes article is that your first priority should be to choose an academic or training pursuit that you enjoy, trying not to weigh money and opportunity too heavily. The rationale is that your intrinsic satisfaction with the subject matter will be reflected in the content you produce, your grades, and ultimately your performance and success at school or as part of your apprenticeship.

In turn, your effort and achievement in your education or training pursuits will be recognized and appreciated regardless of the career you ultimately choose. For example, many professional schools, such as medical schools, accept students from a variety of different academic disciplines.

In other words, you can’t force it for the money. So it’s much easier to take the natural approach. Study and train in areas that interest you, become an expert in your field, and the money and opportunities will follow…

or will not even matter at all.