Career selection and preparation: the value of having both feet planted firmly on the ground

We continue to insist that our children are our most precious asset, but you wouldn’t know it from the quality and relevance of the debate over youth unemployment and underemployment. The media, politicians, governments and educators would rather talk about the problem than explain it to the people who are feeling its impact the most.

Reality doesn’t always have to be unpleasant. But the longer it’s avoided, the more bitter a pill it is to swallow. Reality in 2013 is that employers are people and whether they’re spending their company’s money or their own, they won’t buy what they don’t need or can’t justify—because they’re worried about their becoming an unemployment statistic. Romantic notions like finding a job in one’s chosen field are off the table if the chosen field doesn’t happen to coincide with what the market wants. If that message is being transmitted to our children, it’s not being received. The more likely explanation is that it isn’t being transmitted because adults are struggling with it, too.

The global economy and free trade agreements were supposed to increase employment by increasing trade. It hasn’t happened in Canada and we can’t seem to bring ourselves to tell our children. The financial meltdown of 2008 didn’t help. But we’d rather perpetuate the myth that there’s a traditional job for every graduate and a graduate for every job—when there isn’t—or avoid the subject altogether.

Change, the word that everyone loves to hate, is alive and well and the rate at which it’s happening is accelerating. In 2013, business either adapts or perishes. Managers have neither the time nor the inclination to be creative about integrating employees where fit isn’t immediately obvious or workable. They’re too busy trying to keep up with their e-mail.

In the opening sequence of every Beverley Hillbillies episode, Jed Clampett was hunting for game. Only, when his shot went astray, what came bubbling up out of the ground was oil. Finding and commercializing oil, or any natural resource, for that matter, involves a lot more time and effort than a stray rifle shot. It’s a make-work project in every  sense of the word. Click on any or all of these links to see just how much effort.

Geologists use the technology and training they have at their disposal to minimize the element of risk when it comes to digging holes and drilling wells. It’s easier to minimize risk when you know exactly what you’re dealing with. The oil industry understands the meaning of dry wells only too well. The fact that oil companies are still in business is proof positive that they know how to go about finding their raw material.

PDD applies the same kind of thinking to the work it does with students and adults who are pondering their future. To use a geological analogy, to us a building is a hollowed out mountain with people working in it. You don’t need satellite images or magnetometer readings to figure out what’s going on inside. The research and questions it takes about the past performance of its tenants are a lot cheaper than a satellite launch or drilling. Since past performance is the best predictor of future performance, what you’ll find out will tell you how likely it is that those companies will still be in operation and what they’ll likely be doing when you’re ready to make a personal bid for their business (read “apply for a job”).

Look for what is

The only exception we can think of to Einstein’s quote is creating what you think should be from scratch. But you have to survive to see your project through. And since we’re on the subject of survival, where are these companies now?

  • Stelco
  • Dofasco
  • Falconbridge
  • Christie’s
  • Spar Aerospace
  • British American Oil
  • Nabisco
  • White Rose
  • Gulf
  • Northern Telecom
  • General Mills
  • Bricklin

Who owns these companies?

  • Rolls-Royce
  • Saab
  • Bentley
  • Range Rover
  • Parker Pen
  • Petro-Canada
  • Loblaws
  • Quaker Oats
  • Tropicana
  • Mott’s
  • Motorola’s cellular business
  • ING
  • Jaguar
  • Land Rover

What does Lenovo make? Whose trademarks did they buy? What Japanese carmaker will stop selling its products in Canada next year?

Politicians are past masters at recognizing problems when they’re in full bloom because they look like heroes when they (try to) solve them, and that translates into votes (they hope). Their idea of the future is the date of the next election. Businesses today find it easier to justify spending to repair something that everyone knows is broken than on preventive maintenance or research and development or on-the-job training. The owner of the building that collapsed in Bangladesh and the owner of the one that collapsed in Elliot Lake understand the consequences of that kind of thinking a lot better now.

In case you were wondering, education is a business, too: have you noticed how advertisements for universities and community colleges in bus shelters and elsewhere have been popping up a lot more lately? Do you know who owns community colleges and universities in Canada? To what extent are universities and community colleges funded from the public purse? What do you know about MOOC? How will universities change because of it?

These times demand that young people mature sooner rather than later. But underemployment and unemployment crises confronting our young people are retarding the process. Will they be able to afford to marry and start a family? What about buying a house or an education for their children? How prepared are they to revisit and rethink their priorities and expectations?

PDD believes that the way geologists go about their business is a powerful analogy for career and education decision making because it’s there for everyone to see. We feel the same way about Einstein’s observations. Geologists may explore the world from vantage points well above the Earth’s surface, but their feet are planted firmly on—and sometimes slightly in—the ground in more ways than one.

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