Investing in the rest of your child’s life
Thoughts about the academic future of my children started edging closer to top-of-mind in 1985. It would be 10 years before my daughter would be old enough to attend university, 13 years for my son, but signs that we were entering the early stages of a global economy and a spate of free trade agreements were everywhere. IBM’s game-changing PC had only been in existence since 1981. How would this impact on them? Would there be new life and career options for them to consider? What about the existing ones?
It was at about that time that McMaster University’s De Groote School of Business invited me to participate in its annual Mock Interview Night as a guest interviewer. The relationship spanned almost 30 years except for a period of 5 years when the economy in the Hamilton area soured and hiring plummetted. In those almost 30 years, I met with some of McMaster’s best and brightest. But it was during our practice interviews that I became aware of how little they really understood about what drives business and its relationships with its employees, university graduates included.
What was missing—and still is—was a robust, easily accessible, 24/7, up-to-date, institutionalized mechanism to alert the student body and parents as a whole to changes in the labour market, how post-secondary educators were adjusting their curricula to respond to those changes, and how students were responding to all of the above. In 1992, I penned and shared a 90-page outline of a mechanism to remedy the problem. I was told that I was 10 – 20 years ahead of my time.
I recently revisited that document and read what governments and educators were talking about 30 years ago: the same things they’re talking about now. Thirty years of talk and no progress. In that document I quoted from ‘Meeting the Global Challenge: Canada in Crisis’ an article in IBM INSIGHT dated September 1991. It said in part:
“Rolling the dice to determine the educational needs of a country is hardly a desirable course of action, yet Canada, challenged by a competitive technology-driven global marketplace, is heading into the 21st century in danger of becoming a second-rate country. A recent Coopers & Lybrand report says that Canadian competitiveness in international markets has seriously declined since 1988, with worse to come in the early 90s.
“We know … that in 1988 there were one million unemployed in Canada and 600,000 high-tech jobs that couldn’t be filled … We don’t have the skills base to support the economic base Canada is attempting to move into.”
From ‘THE PROSPERITY INITIATIVE, A Summary’ — Government of Canada, ©Minister of Supply and Services Canada 1991:
“Canadians are asking what the future holds for themselves and their families. In a profoundly changing world, they know that traditional strategies are no longer enough to provide economic security and prosperity, and protect our environment.
“New approaches are needed to meet the challenges that confront us—challenges that threaten our ability to generate new jobs, our standard of living, and our social programs.”
From ‘A Guide to Education’ (THE GLOBE AND MAIL, August 6, 1992) which examined and analyzed the changes taking place in the classroom:
- “A prevailing mood of anxiety among parents, taxpayers and, in some cases, schools themselves about the future of education in Canada”
- “Growing parental interest in tutorial and other private services, at a time when education increasingly is viewed as Canada’s ticket to economic success”
- “Margaret Wilson, secretary-treasurer of the Ontario Teachers’ Federation, sums up parental nervousness this way: ‘If I don’t create an edge for my kid, my kid isn’t going to get a job.'”
- “Workers are going to have to prepare themselves to be flexible enough for a multitude of tasks, which makes career counselling a tricky venture these days”
- “Other educators, however, are more way about the prospect of a school where so much technology is used to deliver so much information so fast”
It’s worth noting that from 7th position in the World Economic Forum’s Developed Countries Competitiveness Ranking in 1991, Canada slipped through 11th in 1992 to 15th in 2014-2015.
THE GLOBE AND MAIL quoted Vancouver teacher Elaine Decker in its August 6, 1992 issue:
“We may be giving teachers more sophisticated methods for delivering education, but perhaps the kids really need more sophisticated methods for interpreting the world.”
Anyone who may be thinking about post-secondary education for his or her child or children should take note of those rankings. They should also be aware that the cost of tuition is spiralling upward. This threatens to put university and other kinds of diplomas beyond the reach of a growing number of families. If that thinking extends to employment prospects after graduation, the reality of the “new” work force, almost 50% of which is precariously employed, could be equally disquieting.
People who are precariously employed are said to be part of the ‘precariat’. According to Wikipedia:
‘In sociology and economics, the precariat is a social class formed by people suffering from precarity, which is a condition of existence without predictability or security, affecting material or psychological welfare … Specifically, it is applied to the condition of lack of job security, in other words intermittent employment or underemployment and the resultant precarious existence’.
Most of us grew up believing that a good education meant a good life, regardless of what discipline the degree was in. There are fields in which learning more still means earning more, but parents and their children together have to look harder to find, prepare and compete for work in them. Employers talk a good game about what they expect from new recruits, but they positively excel when it comes to driving down the number they actually need to as close to zero as possible. They have the tools at their disposal to do it: precarious employment and devalued undergraduate and postgraduate degrees are two of the latest. We can only hope that they will be among the last.
From the April 11th Business section of the Toronto Star: ‘Ontario wants to discuss effect of online retailing‘. From the April 10th Wall Street Journal: ‘Canada Adds 28,700 Jobs in March on Part-Time-Boost‘. From the March 8th issue of The Guardian: ‘Life of a GP: We are crumbling under the pressures of workload‘.
This is pretty heavy stuff for a subject that, less than a generation ago, spent much less time at top-of-mind. But that’s the way things are in a world that’s riding madly off in all directions with a smartphone in one hand, a tablet computer in the other and, as of April 24th, an Apple WATCH on its wrist. For the moment, technology rules, and many employers can’t seem to get enough of it or deploy it fast enough to replace people.
In a perfect world, the system I proposed, or one like it, would have been in place and operating for at least 25 years. Until it is, PDD will guide parents and their children through the processes on which it’s based, 1-on-1.
The world needs all of the trained minds it can produce to right wrongs and clean up after itself so that it’s fit for our children and grandchildren to live in. If you need proof, pick up a newspaper. But how do we reconcile the rising cost of higher education with employment terms and conditions that bear little or no resemblance to those attached to the jobs we remember, or the obsession with federally and provincially mandated austerity? That austerity has seen governments scale back their funding of universities from two dollars for every student dollar of tuition paid to one dollar for every student dollar of tuition paid.
On July 5, 2013, I wrote a post based on this observation from Albert Einstein: ‘If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not people or objects.’ As things stand, we’re going to have to be a lot more patient about realizing that objective than I thought.
I founded the Personal Due Diligence Project, or PDD, in 2012. To find out more about us, click here. To participate anonymously in our on-line survey entitled ‘Hopes, dreams and tuition’, click here.
F. Neil Morris
Founder & President
The Personal Due Diligence Project
+ 1 905 273 9880