The cost of knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing

Post secondary education is now a commodity. Market forces are driving down the value of learning how to think right before our eyes. Parents who raised their children to respect the value of knowledge will find that a very bitter pill to swallow. But rather than corrupt their children’s attitudes toward big business, they’ll hold their noses, pretend that this really isn’t happening and hope that things get better.

PDD came into being to show parents how not to hold their noses, not because we believe in entitlement. Over the last 30 years I’ve been privileged to meet students who are bright, articulate, energetic, idealistic and creative. We want our children to be able to recognize and gravitate to companies that will invest in them because it makes sense for them and for the country.

In a national advertising campaign many years ago, Japan’s Matsushita, now Panasonic, acknowledged the people in communities where the company was a major employer by pledging to invest in those communities as their way of thanking them and assigning tangible value to devotion and hard work. There are such companies in Canada and we don’t need rose-coloured glasses to see them. This applies as much to young people preparing to enter the work force as it does to people already in the work force.

Wherever possible, and it is possible, PDD encourages and teaches its clients how to position themselves to identify and gravitate toward companies and organizations that invest in their people. There may be a mismatch between the skills our economy needs and the skills that are available to it locally, but how much of that shortage can be attributed to employers who chose not to invest in on-the-job training? It’s funny how much affinity employees can develop for companies that believe in them…

Canada’s story isn’t confined to Canada. This is how the World Economic Forum assessed Canada’s ranking on page 24 of the Global Competitiveness Report 2012–2013 :

Canada falls two positions to 14th place in this year’s rankings. Although Canada continues to benefit from highly efficient markets (with its goods, labour, and financial markets ranked 13th, 4th, and 11th, respectively), well-functioning and transparent institutions (11th), and excellent infrastructure (13th), it is being dragged down by a less favourable assessment of the quality of its research institutions and the government’s role in promoting innovation through procurement practices. In a similar fashion, although Canada has been successful in nurturing its human resources compared with other advanced economies (it is ranked 7th for health and primary education and 15th for higher education and training), the data suggest a slight downward trend of its performance in higher education (ranking 8th place on higher education and training two years ago), driven by lower university enrollment rates and a decline in the extent to which staff is being trained at the workplace.

Our children deserve to have their eyes opened to employers who are playing the smugness card to the hilt because they can—for now. Employers who cash in on the “oversupply” of non-specialized degrees by offering unpaid internship, limited contract work, 6-interview callbacks and no hire, and above all, student stress. They justify their largesse in offering yes-there-really-is-free-lunch employment by saying that knowledge gained can be parlayed into permanent employment somewhere. You don’t win friends and influence people by taking advantage of them. You poison your relationship with them and with the people they know. It appears that  someone didn’t get the memo about how employees become customers…

When the pendulum starts swinging the other way, employers are going to discover that the prospect of working for them was not as irresistible as magnets are to iron filings or flame to a moth as they thought. When the rubber meets the road, all a company really has to sell is its reputation. Products and services embody that reputation. Apple’s appeal isn’t only in what it designs and sells: it’s also in how it makes the people feel who own those products. Superior service is a function of people who care about and respect other people.

There’s a practical lesson to be learned from this. The law of demand and supply has kicked in with a vengeance, particularly where non-STEM undergraduate and postgraduate degrees are concerned. In the opinion of some employers, the street value of non-STEM education has dropped to zero.

C-Suite denizens might benefit from a refresher course in the meaning behind “knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing”. What’s our future worth? What’s the future of our children worth? In the aftermath of RBC and others, what conceivable reason could anyone’s child have for wanting to join a large corporation, even one that’s deemed to be “too big to fail”? How many immigrants are going to line up to become citizens of a country that invited them in to earn less money than their Canadian colleagues and then showed them the door when the job was done?

PDD believes that companies that might be too big to fail aren’t too big to be embarrassed. Or avoided as prospective employers.

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