Category Archives: Education & Starting a Career

Here you find our thoughts on education, its value (present and future), and the challenges of starting out on a career

A resolution to engage


Jobs once performed by high school graduates now call for university graduates and postgraduates, not because the work demands postgraduate credentials but because, given the oversupply, they can be had for the price of undergraduate credentials—or less.

The fluidity in the labour market continues because of a spate of free trade agreements and freedom of movement across borders—for money and assets, but not people. Employers who can’t find the education they want at the price they want to pay for it in one country will happily relocate parts or all of their operations to one where the supply is cheaper and readily available.

China is moving from competing on price to competing on innovation. It landed a lunar rover on the Moon on Dec. 14th, 2013. An Indian satellite is now in orbit around Mars. It sent its first photograph of the Red Planet back to Earth on September 29th of this year, less than a week after it arrived.

The transition from high school to university has nothing in common with the transition to high school from public school. No laws oblige us to educate our children beyond secondary school. Unless postgraduate or specialized education is mandatory, where an undergraduate career ends is where the world of work begins. Employers are free to accept all comers, or none.

Institutions of higher learning aren’t required to prepare our children for that world either. We pay our money and we take our chances. But we can improve the likelihood of translating higher education into a living wage by teaching our children how to factor an understanding of demand and supply into decisions about why they’re going to university in the first place.

In his comments to the TEDxToronto Conference on October 2nd, John Cruickshank, Publisher of the Toronto Star and President of Star Media Group, spoke of the implications of young people’s not engaging with society because technology has replaced newspapers as the new distraction. To use his phrase, young people are “zoning out”. He spoke of voter apathy and how it threatens Canada’s democracy when elites fill the vacuum created by voters who are indifferent to the electoral and political processes. Another implication is the extent of our lack of knowledge about the land we live on and the extended family of which we’re a part: 35 million of us spread across 6 time zones.

As of this moment, employers have little taste for degrees in the humanities. There are many reasons to hope that that will change, but when is anybody’s guess. Our priority should be to better align higher education with what we discover by exploring and learning about what Canada needs so that our children can find employment, not unemployment, underemployment or unpaid internships.

This year has taught us a lot about what this country means to us. Cruickshank was right when he talked about engagement. A quick glance at the calendar says we’re a little over a month away from New Year’s Eve. Maybe this will be the year we resolve to learn more and care more about this place.

Retailing higher education — yours

Raphael’s painting of the School of Athens captures the essence of what some people would like to think university still is: scholars deeply engrossed in thought, debate and dialogue.

Raphael: The  School of Athens. "Sanzio 01" by Raphael - Stitched together from Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons -

Raphael: The School of Athens. “Sanzio 01” by Raphael – Stitched together from Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Most people tend to think of it the way the U.S. Department of Labor and Wikipedia see it…

Earnings and unemployment

Is it any wonder that parents insist on spending money on higher education at any cost? Why wouldn’t they? But there’s a fly in the ointment. Actually, it’s more like sand in the crankcase and sugar in the gas tank: the charts apply only to people who have jobs.



Here are two stories. Both are true.

Story 1

The instructor walked to the front of the room, a small lecture theatre, really. The floor swept gently upward from the podium. Instead of individual seats, each of the 4 tiers featured 2 very long desks separated by an aisle with 6 seats per desk. The 20 of us who made up this particular sales class would spend the next 6 weeks together.

The lecture theatre was one of 2 on the ground floor of a 3-storey building in Princeton, New Jersey. IBM rented the ground floor and the subfloor where the demonstration and presentation rooms were located. Parents and children who rode the elevator up to “3” were there to see the dentist whose building this was.

The class consisted of 17 Americans and 3 Canadians. One of the Americans was Rob M., a former U.S. NAVY fighter pilot from Texas, and he looked the part. That included the naval aviator sunglasses: government issue and very macho. You couldn’t buy them anywhere. We learned the expression “cool your jets” from him. Three of the others and I were newly minted university grads. The rest had fulltime working credentials.

Al E. was the instructor. Football player type. He was wearing a dark blue, 3-piece suit, starched white shirt, “sincere” tie and wing tip shoes otherwise known as brogues or sodbusters. It was clear from the way the rest of us were dressed that we were with Al.

Al led off with a question: “How many of you would rather not be called salesmen?”

My hand and several others went up. Our reasons for raising them were very similar: sales people were smooth-talking glad-handers with loud ties, expense accounts, slacks and houndstooth sports jackets. At IBM, selling was and still is a profession, consultative selling to be precise. At the end of our 6 weeks, we all understood why. No gimmicks, no glad-handing, no back slapping, no smooth talking. Just hard work with emphasis on understanding what the customer needed, lots of emphasis. And on being able to communicate how we were going to use IBM products to address them.

Contrary to popular belief, IBM sales reps did sweat. More than most as it turns out. No more raised hands.

The predicament in which many of the graduates with one or more degrees and no work to show for it find themselves is very reminiscent of the lessons that came out of that IBM sales school. Our business cards were like university diplomas. We were proud to carry them and we were proud to present them. But there were other people out there with business cards and they were good. It’s just that customers expected something extra and better from the ladies and the gentlemen in dark blue suits.

There’s a name for that: value added. It’s what differentiated IBM from the competition.

Universities don’t offer courses in professional, consultative selling. Maybe they should for a modest fee before parents and students commit to 4 or more years. But that’s not going to happen because universities are businesses. First they sell the seats. Then they sell the education wholesale. Graduates have always had to find ways to sell it retail. What makes the job that much more challenging is that, in the eyes of customers, all degrees from the same university are the same and they stay that way until the graduate demonstrates otherwise.

Story 2

I recently attended at a meeting in which an employee with 25 years service with a consumer packaged goods manufacturer was released because the local function the employee headed up was being outsourced and off-shored. The employer explained that they were late moving in this direction vis-à-vis their competitors.

We recalled how Canada Post had been one of the first major corporations in the country to jettison its IT function in the 1990s. In Canada, Data Crown and CSG were laying the groundwork for that decision and others like it. The rationale was that the corporation wasn’t in the computer business: it was in the business of moving mail.

This is the part where the consequences of not understanding the needs of the customer kick in. You’ll see it in these CBC stories: Canadian job skills mismatch: truth or science fiction? Unemployment dips to 7%, most new jobs are part time. Where Canada’s job vacancies are—and aren’t. Loonie tumbles amid huge miss in jobs data, expectations, geopolitical worries. Then there’s Frazier Fathers with his undergraduate degree, two master’s degrees and unemployed in Windsor, Ontario.

Employment and Social Development Canada’s Canadian Occupational Projection System (COPS) predicts that growth in industrial GDP [will] improve in the primary and manufacturing sectors between now and 2020, driven mainly by foreign demand. This should come as welcome news for anyone who plans to graduate with a postsecondary education before the end of the decade.

The free trade agreements into which Canada is entering—including the Canada EU Trade Agreement (CETA), details of which will be released shortly—will change customer behaviour. How will they change employment prospects? What is it going to take to win?

In my 7 years with IBM, I saw “THINK” and “There’s never enough time to do the job right, but there’s always enough time to do the job over” in close proximity to each other more than once. It’s not so easy to do the job over when your first degree involves stocking up on education nobody wants to buy.

If the education system were more about education and less about politics, it would be providing up-to-the-minute information on which to base decisions about advanced schooling. The media are much better at it. So is the price they charge.

Rob Kelly defines gap analysis as “a strategic planning tool to help you understand where you are, where you want to be and how you’re going to get there.” High school graduates must understand that where they and their parents might want them to be and where they may have to be could be two very different places.

The day newly minted graduates receive their diploma is the day they become unemployment statistics—unless they have a job to step into. We have enough statistics. Most of them have dollar signs in front of them: $1.2 trillion owing in student loans in the U.S.; $25 billion to $50 billion in Canada. At least 7 million U.S. students have defaulted on their loan payments at least once.

We need as many gainfully employed graduates as we can produce. For their sake and for the sake of the country.




Planning to borrow for university? Think strategically, proceed with caution, consider all options

Raphael: The  School of Athens"Sanzio 01" by Raphael - Stitched together from Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons -

Raphael: The School of Athens. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons –


The first time the subject of my going to university came up in conversation, I pictured students at the feet of men and women of letters, straining to hear the pearls of wisdom falling from their lips. Reality was peeling previously enjoyed gum from the underside of the desks and chairs I sat at during classes at McGill. The desks had also been previously enjoyed and they had the inscriptions to prove it.

There were other realities to deal with before graduating, not the least of which was paying for the right of sitting at those desks. Today, the average cost of a B.A. in Canada is $26,000. The price of the first and only home my parents ever owned was $24,500.

The idea of using “due diligence” and “university” in the same sentence may not appeal to traditionalists. But today’s newly minted university graduates are living a life that’s a lot more complicated and a lot more risky than mine was at that age. Many of the 7.251 billion people on this planet, of whom 35 million live in Canada, are just as bright, just as educated, just as Internet savvy and Internet connected as we are—and just as driven. We have to take into account how the free trade agreements into which Canada is entering—including the Canada EU Trade Agreement (CETA), details of which will be released shortly—will affect employment.

Our children will be working in that world, provided they qualify for the jobs that will define it. Technology, finance and higher education are going to figure very prominently in it. But don’t hold your breath waiting for the “system” to tell you what “right higher education” means or to equip your children to configure it. If the education system were more about education and less about politics, you wouldn’t be reading this.

Rob Kelly defines gap analysis as “a strategic planning tool to help you understand where you are, where you want to be and how you’re going to get there.” Many high school graduates can tell you where they are and where they’d like to be. So can their parents. But where they want to be and where they may have to be could be two entirely different places.

Parents and children who don’t know or accept that risk miscalculating which could mean having to postpone their retirement to help their children pay off any student loan debt they might incur. This assumes that employers will accommodate those parents…

You might want to read this story about Frazier Fathers, his undergraduate degree, his two master’s degrees and unemployment in Windsor, Ontario.

The day newly minted graduates receive their diploma is the day they become unemployment statistics—unless they have a job to step into. We have enough statistics. What we need is as many gainfully employed graduates as we can produce. The country needs them, too.

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.






We have engine ignition and lift-off. Is the future leaving you behind?


One of the reasons science fiction has appealed to us as much as it has is that it’s almost always been set in the future and usually involved at least one trip to or a prolonged stay on a planet or planets other than Earth. And because it’s been far enough in the future, we haven’t really had to worry about dealing with it.

The obstacles humankind (other species hardly ever came into the picture) had to overcome and the technology it had to create to deliver itself to those planets were seldom mentioned because, at the time the books were being written and the motion pictures filmed, the technology and knowhow didn’t exist. Significantly, authors were able to develop their storylines quite comfortably without them.

How far into the future the stories were set was also seldom if ever mentioned: probably several hundred years, if not more. Three notable exceptions are Star Trek (the TV series, the books and the movies), the Star Wars saga—“a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”— and 2001: A Space Odyssey. You can find a discussion of a hypothetical Star Wars timeline by clicking here.

That’s all about to change.

If everything goes according to Hoyle, and if the people in charge of the Mars One mission know what they’re about, the hypothetical will give way to the historical, psychological, anthropological and sociological sometime in 2024 when science fiction becomes science fact and very down-to-Earth—or Mars—as the case may be.


2024 will mark the beginning of the first one-way colonization mission to the Red Planet and sci-fi authors and film-makers everywhere will be pressing their big red Reset buttons. 2024 is 10 years from today. Training for the mission starts next year. The reporting and images won’t look, feel or sound like 2001: A Space Odyssey, but they will be real. So will the changes in our educational, social and business landscape. And you, dear PDD follower, will likely experience many of them.

If this seems a little abrupt and far-fetched, rest assured that humankind has been in the space business for some time. To develop a sense of what it’s been up to, you’ll find reassurance in the Space Launch Report, Space Launch Report Forecast for 2014, and Sierra Nevada Corporation, SpaceX and Boeing are bidding to replace NASA’s retired shuttle fleet.

Up until crews started rotating through the International Space Station (a really worthwhile assignment for Google Search), the impetus to be “up there” was more a push than a pull. The Mars One mission will make the pull stronger than the push, permanently.

At some point, assembly of the crewed and un-crewed spacecraft that will travel to Mars—and elsewhere—will take place on or in orbit around the Moon. You don’t need to be an astrophysicist to appreciate what that’s going to mean to employment opportunities and to the need to be educated for that employment. Canada is a serious player in the space business, and it’s only one of several. You’ll see just how serious when you Google “Canadian companies in the space industry”.

This isn’t a free-time advertisement for space exploration and colonization. It’s a message that warrants serious thought: We’ve caught up with the future, and you can prove it for yourself.

This “catching up with the future” phenomenon isn’t unique to space exploration. Change is exploding all around us but most of us are unaware of it. Some of us are fighting it. Don’t expect it to come looking for you because it probably won’t. People who’ve followed the links and done the Google exercises you just read about were blown away by how much they didn’t know about what they didn’t know. And in this day and age, there’s no excuse for being left behind.

When I founded the Personal Due Diligence Project, it was with the intention of helping as many people as possible avoid being left behind. The Mars One countdown clock reads “T minus 10 years and counting”. Inevitably, that clock will reach T minus zero and we will have engine ignition and lift-off. As of that moment, things will never be quite the same again.

If you want us to help you prepare, we’re here.

Education and work: Living the life our parents lived

My parents bought their first and only home in Montreal for $24,500 in 1956. We were able to retire my modest-by-today’s-standards university tuition loan in under 2 years. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind, mine included, that I would find work, that salary increases would be inevitable and that employment would be long-term. Even if mortgage or car payments stretched us at the beginning of the repayment cycle, the financial burden would become progressively easier to bear. We expected to be employed full-time for the duration of our working life and that we’d retire at age 65 with a good pension and little or no debt.

I mention Montreal because people buy and hold onto houses there for 30 years or more. Even before we moved to Toronto, we were hearing about residential properties here that were being flipped within months to profit from a hyperactive real estate market. The introduction of capital gains taxes on property held short term and occupancy requirements were intended to cool the market down—not extinguish it.

On CBC Radio this morning, a Toronto-based mortgage broker proposed that we resort to auctions instead of bidding wars to return some sanity to home buying in the Greater Toronto Area. The average selling price across the GTA in 2013 was $523,036. Resale condo prices averaged $343,943 for the same period. A week ago, also on CBC Radio, another mortgage broker spoke in terms of a 2.94%, 5 year fixed mortgage and a prospective homebuyer who could see his way clear to carrying that mortgage for $3500 a month—and no more.

Even for people earning enough to carry a home for $3500 a month, raises are not inevitable. Nor are guarantees of full-time employment to and retirement after age 65.

The subject of debt and debt avoidance in connection with higher education and tuition has appeared here all too often since October 2012. But it’s also appeared elsewhere. Parents are thinking twice about how to allocate their education budgets and enrollments are beginning to drop on both sides of the Canada-US border. This is something we can’t afford.

We need as many minds trained to the postsecondary level and gainfully employed as possible. This can happen only if education and training match labour market demand. Otherwise, young people will not be able to leave home and start lives of their own. Those of us who depend on pension income now, or will in the future, have a vested interested in seeing them employed because the dollars we’ll be drawing will not be dollars we contributed, but rather dollars that their generation will have contributed.

At present, the economy is wobbly at best. If there is to be some replacement for the manufacturing-related and other incomes we’ve lost, it won’t appear until 2015 at the earliest, according to today’s Toronto Star. The federal government has been telling us for some time that we have not set aside enough money to be able to retire comfortably at 65, if at all. It says nothing about the life our children will lead until they reach 65.

We have to deal with that subject now. That’s why the Personal Due Diligence Project exists. We place a premium on making decisions about buying higher education that will translate into disposable income after graduation. It wasn’t so long ago that we prepared for only one “career”. Recent history shows that our children will have to prepare for more than one. Those decisions will be a function of conditions in the world economy and how much job creation it stimulates in the labour market. Whether our children benefit from that job creation will be depend not only on whether they’ve been taught to read tea leaves, but whether they’re reading the right tea leaves. Individuals, the labour market and the economy are inextricably bound to one another.

We have to teach our children that what they think about is as important as thinking itself. University and other forms of higher education are for teaching them how to think. The Personal Due Diligence Project is for teaching them what to think about if they want to live the kind of life their parents lived.

Risk is free, risk-free costs

Enough said.