Per ardua ad astra

Per ardua ad astra” is the name of a memorial sculpture that honours fallen Canadian airmen and airwomen. It stands on University Avenue in downtown Toronto. Per ardua ad astra is Latin for “Through adversity to the stars”.

Our unemployed university graduates are bearing the brunt of adversity that could have been avoided. The previous generation’s collective belief that our immense good fortune and blessings entitle us not merely to employment, but to the right employment, is out of place and out of time. The folly of that belief was brought into sharp relief on January 31st, 2013, when CBC-TV’s The Doc Zone showed what happens when a gravy train comes to a screeching halt in its documentary “Generation Jobless”.

If the right federal and provincial programmes could come into being at the drop of a hat, there would be no need to write this. But we’re caught between a rock and a very hard place. Canada has no national education strategy because, according to the constitution, education is a provincial matter. And, for the moment at least, the provinces, territories and Ottawa don’t get along very well.

The memory of “Generation Jobless” has already begun to fade in all but the people directly involved, if it hasn’t already. Those people, our children, don’t need to be reminded of their dilemma. They need a way out and a way up.

For the first time in living memory our children are facing the prospect of earning and accomplishing less than their parents did. And now there are signs that they’re beginning to resign themselves to that fact. They didn’t bring this on themselves: we, their parents, did.

This calamity that “Generation Jobless” claims may take two generations to resolve is the wake-up call Canada didn’t schedule and really didn’t want to answer. We don’t have two generations to spare and this isn’t a social experiment. It’s soul-destroying and dream-destroying. “Own The Podium” is a paltry attempt at instilling a sense of pride in country in young Canadians when they’re feeling abandoned and see no future.

The producers of “Generation Jobless” were right to cite Switzerland’s success in dealing with its 2.8% graduate unemployment rate. Clearly the Swiss have a better handle on their situation than we do on ours at 15%. But the Old Swiss Confederacy dates from August 1st, 1291. That’s 576 more years of history to learn from than we have. It may explain why the Swiss psyche accepts the practice of streaming and of compulsory military service when all able-bodied males reach the age of 20. Swiss males may be recruited at age 16 if they wish to prepare for access to certain sections of the military. (Please note: This is not an argument for introducing compulsory military service in Canada.)

Streaming begins at the end of primary school, typically at age 12, with implications for university attendance: only 20% of applicants to Swiss universities are accepted.

To their great credit, the Swiss treat their children as a natural resource. There’s a lot we could learn from them, starting with introducing our children to the realities of 21st century life in a technologically advanced society at the same age as the Swiss do: 12. Just when our children have to grow up more quickly, we insist on delaying the process for as long as we can. The longer we continue to think this way, the more we’ll be perpetuating lost generations, new underclasses and generations jobless.

How do we justify that to them? How do we justify that to ourselves?

There is something else built into the Swiss psyche that most Canadians wouldn’t understand or appreciate: war waged on and around their territory. Every European country understands it. The Swiss flag was born out of the need to identify Swiss troops in battle in 1339. Switzerland is much more than numbered bank accounts, the Alps and watches. It has an air force, an army and a philosophy about education and it takes all three very seriously.

What parents haven’t known about how Canada’s economy and employment opportunities are evolving has coloured the recommendations and guidance they’ve given to their children. Our 15% university graduate unemployment rate speaks to just how serious the disconnect really is. They’re basing their recommendations on information they have that is either seriously out of date or nonexistent. Experience has taught the Swiss that thinking about education and employment should start at the end of primary school: Canadians start thinking about it less than a year before university or college admission.

At this point, you may be asking, “Where have career and guidance counselling been in all of this?” Some people might answer, “Missing in action.” A more meaningful question might be: “What’s the state of today’s labour and education markets and what will it likely be tomorrow?” Or even more to the point: “What’s new?”

There’s a story about a commuter who makes a mad dash for the 8:10 but arrives too late. As our hero struggles to catch his breath, a fellow commuter asks what the problem is. Still out of breath, our hero gasps, “I should have run faster.” The fellow commuter responds, “Maybe you should have started running sooner.”

There’s more than enough raw data and information to go around to answer many of those questions. Tomorrow there will be more. Those who wait until graduation to start the process of accessing and interpreting both risk doing themselves a great disservice. A graduate’s first job out of university or community college or trade school can shape the rest of his or her life—and retirement. As the Swiss already know, it makes a lot of sense to start running sooner rather than later.

PDD believes in Canadian business savvy, creativity, ingenuity, entrepreneurialism and the future of this country. That’s why Personal Due Diligence is here. To begin the process with you and, if necessary, to stay with you until the job’s done.

Per ardua ad astra.

1 thought on “Per ardua ad astra

  1. Pingback: Does anybody really know what time it is? | Personal Due Diligence

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