Neil Sandell is a senior radio producer at the CBC in Toronto. His work has been recognized by way of more than 15 radio documentary awards inside and outside Canada. In his Atkinson Series of articles that first appeared in the Toronto Star on Saturday, December 1st, 2012, he talks about the plight of students who have dressed themselves in university degrees and have nowhere to go. After you read this post, please read Sandell’s articles and then draw your own conclusions.
“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.”
— THE PROSPERITY INITIATIVE, A Summary, Government of Canada © Minister of Supply and Services Canada 1991
“We may be giving teachers more sophisticated methods of delivering education, but perhaps the kids really need more sophisticated methods for interpreting the world.”
— Elaine Decker, Vancouver Teacher, THE GLOBE AND MAIL, August 6, 1992
Post-university student disappointment over the lack of work they were expecting to find, and suitable work in general, is a story that just won’t go away. The real story, the one we believe Sandell missed, is that the seeds of the problem were sown at least as far back as the mid-1980s and nobody paid attention. Akio Morita and Konosuke Matsushita made these predictions in 1986 and 1987 respectively:
“American companies have either shifted output to low-wage countries or come to buy parts and assembled products from countries like Japan that can make quality products at low prices. The result is a hollowing of American industry. The U.S. is abandoning its status as an industrial power.”
— Akio Morita, CEO, Sony Corp. 1986
“We are going to win and the industrial west is going to lose out; there is not much you can do about it because the reasons for your failure are within yourselves.”
— Konosuke Matsushita, Founder of Matsushita (Panasonic) 1987
At about the same time, Lee Iacocca was observing that U.S. steel shipped to Japan made the return trip with a wheel at each corner. Nobody paid attention to him either. This was happening over 25 years ago. How is it that so many people claim that they didn’t see it coming? What did they think was coming?
Konosuke Matsushita was not one to mince words. Elaine Decker would almost certainly tell Katie Daniels (a disillusioned U of T graduate interviewed for Sandell’s article) to give herself a good shake and disabuse herself of the notion that university degrees are guarantees of employment, let alone employment in her chosen field. Universities teach people how to collect and organize information, turn it into learning, use it in arguments, and just plain think.
Jobs are a function of demand. If there’s no demand locally and no demand elsewhere, there should be a Plan B. Correction: there must be a Plan B. In business as in government, there’s no knee-jerk response that triggers the creation of a new job just because someone with a university diploma and in need of an income happens to be in the neighbourhood.
We’ve run out of time, the pain is more intense, and it’s hitting much closer to home. Katie Daniels was not sold a bill of goods. She simply trusted her sources and didn’t do her homework. Should she pursue a master’s degree because of some imagined promise of employment? Where does the word promise appear in master’s and degree?
Clicking on Millennium Project will take you to the University of Michigan, Flint. These are not the Millennium Scholarship people. These people, academics and non-academics, work in the education industry. They treat universities as the businesses they are and they’re worried about the future of the business. You might be invigorated by what they’re thinking in Michigan, why they’re thinking it, and what it means for the current and future crops of students.
In 2001 I left executive search for good and moved to the other side of the table: the transition counselling side. It’s also known as outplacement counselling. Since making the move, I’ve met with 1918 people one-on-one who lost their job and their income 10 minutes before I walked into the room. There are lessons to be learned from meetings like those. More dots that need connecting.
To overcome the inertia that has been plaguing this problem for over a quarter century, a lot more people are going to have to connect a lot more dots a lot more quickly. Thank you for visiting Personal Due Diligence. We specialize in identifying what dots to connect—and why.