When I was a school boy, my parents, and the parents of my friends, would tell us, “Stay in school, get a good education, so you won’t have to work as hard as we did.” That was in the 1950’s, our parents had lived through the dirty thirties, the years of the Great Depression and of drought here on the prairies. They wanted us to have a better life.
The message heard by our generation, and by succeeding generations, was that education was the ticket to avoiding hard work. University enrollment has increased exponentially but many students now graduating are finding that the easy jobs they thought they were preparing for do not exist. Many of them are unemployed. Others are driving taxis or working in fast food restaurants.
The Occupy Wall Street movement that spread to cities across North America last year was a protest by young people against the greed of the people running big business. The protesters believed they were lining their own pockets by restricting the number of workers they were paying.
This year we are seeing massive student protests in Québec against the cost of tuition. In the US, the total amount of student loan debt is higher than the total of credit card debt. The figures are probably not a lot different in Canada. Students are saying that they need a university degree to obtain any kind of respectable work and making such an education so hard to obtain on economic grounds is unfair.
Business managers give a different picture. They say that university graduates today cannot communicate clearly, orally or in writing, have a lack of critical thinking skills and show a lack of respect. In effect, they have not learned the basic skills needed for holding a job.
Employers are hiring people with good communication and math skills, people who can listen and learn and who will work well with others. A willingness to serve others is a quality that employers seek. It appears that these qualities are most often found outside the ranks of the university educated.
Jobs are waiting for people who train to be plumbers, electricians, welders, mechanics, or any of the other skilled trades. These jobs offer high wages and good job security, but they involve real physical work, which is what the university educated crowd thought they needed to avoid. As a result, Canada is welcoming immigrants from other countries to fill many of these jobs.
Did our parents mislead us in stressing the importance of education? Or did we choose to hear the part of the message that most appealed to our flesh?
Perhaps part of the responsibility lies with the declining standards of the education system. A student who graduated from the Eighth Grade 130 years ago had learned as much as a student today who graduates from University with a Bachelor’s Degree. Plus, the student of 130 years ago was probably much better prepared in attitude to enter the workforce.
That piece of paper called a diploma may look nice framed on the wall of your home, but it is not what employers are looking for. There are other, far less expensive, ways to learn the skills needed in today’s world. The person who has the initiative to discover what skills employers are looking for, and to learn those skills, will have little problem finding work. It’s what you know, and the kind of person you are, that counts in the eyes of an employer, not a fancy piece of paper.
The person who thinks a diploma entitles him to a job is the type of person who got involved in the Occupy movement last year or the Quebec tuition protests this year. That sense of entitlement leaves one unprepared for the real working world.