Things your parents didn’t tell you


In the opening scene of Disney’s The Lion King, the sun rises over the Pride Lands of Africa as the animals travel to pay homage to Simba, the newborn son of King Mufasa and Queen Sarabi.

The tribute is the first act in Simba’s Circle of Life. It returns to its starting point with the arrival of Simba’s son Kopa. For some of us, the transition from school to work is the first act in our personal Circle of Life. It returns to its starting point the day we attend the commencement exercises of our sons and daughters.

Students graduating this spring will have no personal recollection of the post World War II era when we converted our factories from wartime to peacetime production, the live broadcast of the coronation of Elizabeth II, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the launch of Sputnik and the first manned landing on the moon.

What they will remember is the struggle to find work after commencement, the insult of unpaid internships, temporary contracts with no benefits and no immediately apparent future.

Up until two years ago, the transition from end of formal education to salaried, fulltime positions with prospects was taken as a given. What we’re seeing now is that the Circle of Life isn’t necessarily going to carry the next graduating class into permanent, salaried employment—or, possibly, any work that we used to associate with undergraduate and postgraduate university degrees for that matter.

Structural changes to the economy with lifestyle, occupational and retirement implications started to appear in earnest in the mid-1980s as the global economy began to coalesce. I’d begun to track them for my own children in anticipation of the career selection discussions I knew would come, and they did. Other than for a relative handful of people who had a vested interest in doing the same kinds of tracking, people like Akio MoritaKonosuke Matsushita and Lee Iacocca, for the rest of the world it was business as usual as manufacturing and R&D jobs started to disappear.

As 2013 dawned, the media began reporting on a troubling trend: the economy had begun to shun young people with non-specific, undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. Those who were “hired” were being offered unpaid internships or short-term contract positions with no benefits and no prospects. In New York City, it takes a bachelor’s degree to be a filing clerk. This has knocked the wind out of the sails of recent graduating classes and, left unchecked, will continue until business people in high places achieve their vision of the perfect world: everything that can be outsourced and offshored already gone or scheduled to be, with profits and bonuses for all, except for the bottom 99%.

On May 18th the Toronto Star published Where Capitalism goes from here. Richard Florida contributed Saving capitalism from Itself. In it he wrote: “We are in the midst of the greatest, most thorough economic transformation in all of history.” This article assumes that capitalism can be repaired and returned to service. We defer to the economists on that one.

It’s ironic that Florida’s article, along with those of Don Tapscott and Roger Martin, appeared in a newspaper. People don’t read newspapers much any more. As it happens, May 18th was the start of the 3-day Victoria Day weekend. People with a critical need to know what Florida and Tapscott and Martin had to say because of the implications for themselves and their children probably didn’t see the article, much less read it.

PDD hopes they do.

The wastelands that outsourcing and offshoring have created are similar to what follows plagues of locusts, with one difference: locusts don’t think, they eat. Certain captains of industry plunder. Their idea of a utopian world is one in which everything comes with a barcode and a price tag.

And if it all blows up? The next generation will be there to clean up the mess. Little matter that the people who created it were once “the next generation” themselves and probably have children of their own. There’s just one small detail: how are they going to clean up if they’re not working?

The “automatic” transition-from-schooling-to-work model is severely damaged. It is broke—bankrupt too, maybe—and we all have to fix it. The story about graduate un- and underemployment has been in the media for 5 months and it has a long run ahead of it. Federal governments and provincial governments have been talking about the miscommunication between employers and prospective candidates for years. If you or someone you know is un- or underemployed, you don’t need proof. You and they are living it.

Einstein said that we wouldn’t be able to solve our problems by thinking the same way we did when we created them. He also said:

Einstein-intuitive mind

Our children are in crisis. We’ve lived through difficult times before. They haven’t. In this buyer’s market, employers are looking for employees with ideas they can articulate succinctly about how they’re going to make money for the right someone’s business. Résumés, interviewing coaches, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are a means to an end. No strategy, no objective, no differentiation? No audience. There are too many people in line ahead of them.

Something else parents are keeping to themselves: many managers resent the recruiting process because it adds to their workload and doesn’t figure in their performance appraisals. Managers have neither the time, the inclination nor the imagination to read between the lines. That’s why they use scanning software. Some managers shouldn’t be managers at all.

Parents can’t speak with authority on the subject of selling and marketing as part of securing employment because many haven’t mastered the skill themselves. If career counsellors were up to the task, we wouldn’t have the problem we do. Work search is a business discipline where sales and marketing of self are applied in a business context. First comes the idea about a product or service. Then there’s the research to see if anyone might be interested in buying. Next comes supporting documentation, promotional literature, first contact, the pitch, the negotiation and the close.

Our children mustn’t forget the gift Einstein referred to. Nor must their parents allow them to. Our young people are the future regardless of their stripe or area of specialization. They don’t deserve to be kicked and insulted when they’re down by offers of unpaid internships, especially when the degree(s) they’ve earned prove that they can think and analyze and create in today’s terms, not yesterday’s.

PDD strongly believes that for their sake and ours, we have to bring all of our intellectual resources to bear on confronting the challenges we face. PDD exists to talk the talk and walk the walk, one-on-one, for as long as it takes.

Many of those resources are embodied in our children. That’s why we educate them, isn’t it?

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