Thinking university? This isn’t your parents’ labour market


 

My parents and I first talked about university at the end of Grade 9. We’d learned that I would have to choose between a “Latin-science” and a “math-science” stream. I chose Latin-science.

Neither of my parents had attended university. They tried to convince me that I should be a dentist because of the benefits of being my own boss and the status that went along with the profession. My dream had been to design spacecraft and space probes. But that would have demanded a specialized degree in Engineering and our finances couldn’t handle it. Two years into the bachelor’s programme that was a prerequisite for entry into dentistry, I was no longer convinced. There was also the matter of my low tolerance for the sight of blood.

I completed a general B.Sc. and joined IBM. IBM trained: most employers didn’t. After 7 years I left to start what became a 26-year career as a self-employed IT executive recruiter that evolved into transition counselling and the Personal Due Diligence Project (PDD).

In the mid-1980s, and with the global economy already on the horizon, I started preparing myself to answer questions from my daughter and son on the subject of attending university when the time came. At the time, they were 8 and 5 respectively. They both attended, graduated, married and are thriving.

Chances are that you’re thinking about sending your children to university, or know someone who is. If so, here are some questions you might want to think about.

  • What kind of work will your child will be doing after they graduate?
  • How did they make that decision?
  • Who, if anyone, influenced it?
  • Have you priced a university education lately?
  • How do you rate the odds that there actually will be “acceptable” work for them to do?
  • On what do you base that conclusion?
  • If work in their chosen field isn’t available, what’s your plan B?
  • If you’re planning to finance their education, who’ll be paying off the loan?
  • What if your child plans to but can’t?
  • Are you willing to delay your retirement to help them pay off that debt if necessary?
  • What if your employer denied your request to postpone your retirement?
  • What if you became unemployed prior to retiring?
  • If your children can’t earn enough to leave home, will you be able to subsidize them?
  • If they want to buy a home but can’t or haven’t saved enough for the down payment, will you make it for them?
  • How important is retirement planning to you and your child?

Unless the work you do requires that you constantly monitor the labour market, you might be astounded to learn that:

  • An estimated 300,000 university graduates in Canada are working as unpaid interns with no guarantee of a permanent position at the end of their term.
  • Canadian families have borrowed to pay for tuition and owe between C$25 billion and C$50 billion.
  • American families owe over US$1.2 trillion in student loans. Many have begun to default for lack of sufficiently lucrative work.

To satisfy yourself about the gravity of the situation, set your Google Alerts or other aggregator to find “student debt” and request daily delivery of the results to your desktop. You can expect an average of 10 items a day.

In today’s labour market, university is as likely to mean financial hardship as financial gain. Students are returning to the family home because they can’t afford to pay rent, let alone make mortgage payments. This is not the outcome that parents expected or wanted for their children. Predictions that this generation will be worse off than its parents’ are already coming true. A major contributing factor is the extent to which parents and their children are out of sync with the needs, wants and priorities of employers. That includes attitudes and tactics designed to reduce costs that simply didn’t exist 20 years ago.

Our business is the extraction and interpretation of deep market intelligence early enough to guide our clients in making informed decisions about how they intend to approach the subject of university. PDD is about building sound business cases for investing in higher education that will satisfy your children’s short-, medium- and long term needs. This includes their financial security and, possibly, yours. We apply the same kind of thinking to clients who are between situations.

As food for thought, consider the implications of this quote from an article in the May 26 – June 1, 2014 Bloomberg Businessweek about the future of IBM entitled ‘The Trouble With IBM’. It will explain why this isn’t your father’s—or mother’s—economy:

“In February, during an onstage interview at a mobile technology conference in Barcelona, [IBM CEO Ginni Rometty] was asked whether business leaders understood just how rapidly their industries are being disrupted. ‘If you try to compare today to the past,’ Rometty said, ‘the speed of change is much faster. And you should not be dissuaded by that, meaning, that is all the more reason to push forward with things.’”

7.2 billion people call Earth home. It’s estimated that 2.5 billion of them were connected to the Internet in 2012. By 2017, there will be 7.6 billion of us, 3.5 billion of whom will be connected to the Internet—and to each other.

That’s a lot of competition, complexity and unpredictability for one planet. And there’s no end in sight.

 

 

 

 

 

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