Wednesday, September 28

Disadvantaging Our Nation's Children

I went to college, and I'm not sorry that I did. In the years since, however, I've often been reminded that getting my degree (Hospitality Management) was not nearly as essential as everyone assumed it would be. I've met many a great manager who never went to college or never graduated; getting a job in the industry as soon as they were old enough to work, they made themselves students of the best managers around and worked their way through the ranks.

As college tuition continues to rise and the unstable job market dumps more and more people with multiple degrees back into the market, it irks me that as a nation we continue to send people to college without giving serious consideration to other options. At very least, I've come to feel, people should work their way through school - the simple act of holding down a consistent, real-world job of some kind will go further towards opening doors and making them employable in the future than their degree of choice.

When online polls come back with results like the recent Harris poll finding that "fifty-nine percent of parents provide support to their adult children who no longer attend school", is there really any way to avoid acknowledging that the current system is fatally broken? When both grads and their parents feel trapped, scraping by and financially co-dependent because neither can seem to get or stay solidly above water, red lights should be flashing and alarm bells should be sounding at all levels!

Historically, people began laying the ground work for their futures in their teen years. Whether it was a young woman teaching school to support herself and put something away until she married, or a young man apprenticing himself to a trade and squirreling away funds to start his own shop, people hit their twenties ready to start families, buy houses and invest their strongest, most energetic years in growing the business or career that would fund their lifetime and hopefully be passed on to their children.

With modern labor laws preventing young people and teens from being in the workplace or starting any kind of useful employment before age 18, we've successfully handicapped generations of children. Is it any wonder so many people are getting married and starting families later, or not at all? Are we surprised that marriages are on the rocks and failing at record levels? When you try to squish 20 years worth of education, experience and growth into less than 10 years, something will have to give!

I was delighted recently to read on Rural Revolution about a homeschooling family who decided to be practical, proactive and set an excellent example for others. Thanks to their common sense and forethought, their daughter is set up to have the hands-on experience, a tailored educational program and solid references for the degree of her choice before she graduates from high school! In addition, she'll avoid the expense of college attendance completely.

In reading about the steps that family was taking and keeping in mind the experiences I've seen friends and other new graduates go through, I'd like to offer a few ideas for anyone interested in being part of breaking the nasty cycle of pursing extra degrees, racking up school loans and struggling to find a job.

1. If you are a grad or the parent of a grad, consider learning a trade first. Even if you intend to go to college in the future for an advanced degree, learn an in-demand trade, skill or certification first. You'll make a lot more money and develop a much better work history and broader skill set while to fund your education than you would hopping between entry-level retail jobs during the same time frame. As an added bonus, maintaining that skill set will give you a ready backup plan or the easy opportunity to make money on the side should the financial road ahead get rocky.

2. Help get kids into the workplace early. Do you work at home? Are you self-employed? Open your doors to teenagers! Hire an off-the-books seasonal assistant or partner with your local high school, youth group, scouting club, etc. to offer an internship, mentoring or shadowing days! The more hands-on experience and good references kids can build early, the better off they are later on.

3. Take the statistics with a grain of salt. Companies and colleges make lots of money projecting what fields will need new graduates in the coming years. But they only tell you about the ones that require degrees they provide. For example, did you know that America will need 130,000 new long distance truck drivers this year? Obviously that isn't for everyone, but getting licensed to do that costs dramatically less than a degree and if you listened to the Great Courses series while on the road you could have a great head start on a degree before you even started college! The point is, there are plenty of jobs out there with solid market growth numbers and it could be well worth your while to find them - just don't expect colleges and newspapers to give you the whole story.

4. Be open to self-employment. It annoys me that as an independent beauty consultant I am barred by the National Experiential Education Association from hosting any interns from colleges that belong their group. I have learned a tremendous amount about myself and other people by being self-employed. Things I wish I'd known before I went to college and got a managerial job! Although self-employment is often more precarious than an office job, it has many benefits and is not necessarily mutually exclusive to being employed by someone else as well. It might be a good fit for you or a student you know. There are plenty of low-risk ways to try it and find out, so don't pass it by without at least looking!

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