Breathing room and making your education count

Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty met with his provincial and territorial counterparts at Meech Lake on December 16th to discuss changes to the Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security. The premiers and territorial leaders want to see contributions and payments rise. Flaherty doesn’t.

Whether there should be changes or not is beyond the scope of what the Personal Due Diligence Project (PDD) was conceived to do. But the mere fact that the provinces and territories met with Ottawa over the subject shows that we’re in a state of flux, most of which has strong economic and personal financial overtones.

Through no fault of its own, postsecondary education and how we buy it has become a part of the debate over privately and publicly funded pensions. Corporations worry about how meeting their obligations to their retirees is eroding their financial positions. Ottawa is worried that most Canadians can’t afford to retire because they haven’t set aside sufficient funds. In the meantime, levels of personal debt keep rising: $1.631 for each $1.00 earned in the second quarter of 2013; $1.637 for each $1.oo earned in the third quarter of 2013.

One of the ways some employers are responding is by not hiring graduates who have to be trained. They need to see an almost immediate—and positive—return on their investment in salaries and the costs associated with those salaries. This is a worldwide phenomenon because the world’s finances are still very fragile. The U.S. debt crisis is still far from over.

The recent agreement between Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. senate isn’t a solution. It’s 2 years of breathing room. Until world finances stabilize, a lot of businesses will be hiring with the short term in mind. Please listen carefully to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s comments in this USA TODAY clip for insights into what this has meant for our cousins south of the border.

It wouldn’t be fair to say that all of the estimated 100,000 to 300,000 graduates and postgraduates who are working as unpaid interns or baristas across Ontario (no one really knows for sure just how many there really are) failed to do an environmental scan before they decided on what they were going to study. Similar stories have surfaced in the U.S. and EuropeBut regardless of how they arrived at the conclusions they arrived at, they all have to live with the consequences of those decisions, and of having to repay whatever debt they incurred.

Graduates from disciplines that will make it easier for employers to weather the economic turmoil we’re in will be better received than graduates from disciplines that won’t. It only makes sense to learn what ones and which employers. Better to know that your child’s preferrence isn’t on that list and what you’re both going to do about it before you put your money down.

These are difficult decisions for 18-year-olds to research and evaluate on their own and these are difficult times. Many adults with 10 or more years of working experience and no job are in precisely the same boat. I’ve met with over 2000 of those adults in the last 12 years.

Your personal due diligence should span at least one full year. That year should be Grade 11 if your child plans to enter a postsecondary programme at the end of Grade 12. During that year we’ll guide you and your child(ren) through 12 monthly, intensive, research-based projects that will allow you to test your hypotheses about how the disciplines you and your child are considering will impact on his or her marketability and employability. By the time the process is complete, you’ll both have acquired the deep market intelligence that befits the seriousness and implications of the decisions you’ll be making. Not to mention the business case you’ll have created to justify those decisions.

If Joshua Kurlantzick is right about Farewell To the Age of Free Trade in the latest Bloomberg Businessweek, the ground has just shifted again. Which businesses or professions will your son or daughter and you focus on? Which employers will they cultivate?

We’re all in uncharted territory. Those 100,000 to 300,000 graduates and postgraduates never expected to be competing for jobs that pay nothing when they were deciding on what education to buy and putting their money down. What they didn’t know is that higher education has gone from “nice to have” to “need to have” to “strategic”.

This latest “Meech Lake” was a wake-up call. You have an option and a resource at your disposal to deal with it that 100,000 to 300,000 Canadians didn’t have. What you don’t have is their debt.

You and your children have several years of breathing room and access to people who can help you make the most of it. An ounce of prevention is stilll worth a pound of cure.

The Personal Due Diligence Project is your ounce of prevention.

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