24 August 2010

Are today's college graduates ready for the working world?

My post today is part of a project called the Blog Off. A Blog Off is a sort of a group post. In this case bloggers from all walks of life all write about an agreed-upon topic and the topic for this one is just what you see in the headline, "Are today's college graduates ready for the working world?" Go to the website letsblogoff.com and you can get more information about this Blog Off's participants and you can keep up with Blog Offs to come. We even have a button.

OK, back to the question at hand. Are today's college graduates ready for the working world? You know, the world where you use a w-4 calculator to manage your paycheck. I say not really but not for the reasons you hear usually. I say no because no 22-year-old is really ready for adulthood and no 22-year-old ever has been. The process of growing up and into an adult self takes a long time and the older I get the more I realize that it's a process that never really ends.

But I think questions such as today's get asked for reasons that have nothing to do with the young people at any given moment. I think the act of asking that question comes from an anxiety on the part of the people asking and it's an anxiety as old as humanity itself.

Hesiod was an 8th Century BC Greek poet and a contemporary of Homer's. Nearly three thousand years ago he had this to say: "I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on the frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words. When I was a boy, we were taught to be discrete and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise and impatient of restraint."

Three millennia after Hesiod, not much has really changed. Every generation looks down at the youth following them with some sort of generalized disdain. Every generation gets judged as lacking by whoever's running the show at a given moment in time.

I'm a Generation X and we were given that name by author Douglas Coupland who wrote an article in 1987 for Vancouver Magazine. His article, Generation X, lamented the lack of cohesion and identity among us post-Boomers and the name stuck. We were called latchkey kids in elementary school and as young adults we were judged to be slackers. To the Baby Boom under whose shadow we toiled thanklessly, we were useless and lazy. We had no drive, did too many drugs and would never amount to anything.

My generation's in charge now and in my generation's popular estimation, Generation Y is everything we were accused of being. The once bitterly resented Baby Boomers have become allies in the quest to hold onto our relevance as the first signs of age discrimination start to show their ugly heads.

It's on another front that Baby Boomers and Generation Xers tend to agree, and that's the near deification of the Greatest Generation. The Greatest Generation were the Boomer's parents and our grandparents. They fought the Second World War and lived dutiful, quiet lives. At least that's the popular image.

When the Greatest Generation were teenagers, the popular opinion of them wasn't quite so great. In 1935, Columbia University president Nicholas Butler summed up the grave youth problem. "Day by day the newspapers report one grave crime after another, one moral delinquency after another, and one dereliction of duty after another."

Journalist Maxine Johnson traveled 10,000 miles studying this new "Lost Generation," the title of her 1936 book. Everywhere she found teenagers "confused, disillusioned, disenchanted," in a state "rapidly approaching a psychosis."

"British tea and King George's taxes would be unloaded today without protest" by 1930s youth, ... Today's younger generation accepts whatever happens to it with sheep-like apathy."

Also in 1936, historians George Leighton and Richard Hellman shouted from the pages of Harper's Monthly "[A] generation, numbering in the millions, has gone so far in decay that it acts without thought of social responsibility. High school kids are armed, out for what they can get... The Lost Generation is even now rotting before our eyes."

Government estimates of venereal disease and abortion in the 1930s were the highest of any generation before or since. One result, American Mercury reported in 1936, of "the drinking bouts in which high school and college students frequently indulge, resulting in promiscuous relations." Studies by noted social scientists in the 1941 text, Personality and the Family, found 80% of the young men and 60% of the young women of the 1930s reported having premarital sex. Marriages contracted in 1935 were four times more likely to end in divorce than those of 1885.

I found those quotes in Mike Males' Oblivion  X: Today's Youth are Always the Worst.

Remember those quotes the next time you hear a regressionist politician invoking the values of the World War Two Generation. And remember them too the next time you get ready to launch into a tirade about these damn kids today.

So back to the topic of today's Blog Off. Of course college graduates aren't ready for the working world, no young person is now and none ever has been. The point of being a young adult is to spend the rest of your 20s figuring it out how the world works. An education is a tool set to help people get to 30 so they can be taken seriously.

The youth of today will do just fine. They'll figure it out and they'll take the reins from my generation over the course of the next 20 years. Besides, they can't screw things up any worse than the Baby Boomers did.

To see how other people answer this question, here are some more #letsblogoff paticipants:

Bob Borson's Life of an Architect
Nick Lovelady's Cupboards
Veronika Miller's Modenus
Becky Shankle's Eco Modernism
Tamara Dalton's Design Studios
Tim Elmore's On Leading the Next Generation
Rufus Dogg's Dog Walk Blog
Sean Lintow's Homeowner's Resource Center
Bonnie Harris' The Wax Blog
Amy Good's Amy's Blog
Rich Holdshuh's Concrete Detail
Tim Bogan's Windbag International
Hollie Holcombe's Green Rascal Design
Cindy Frewen-Wuellner's Urbanverse
Steve Mouzon's Original Green


  1. You have such a talent for putting things in perspective. I find myself periodically lamenting today's kids, but then stop myself and remember that every generation on the face of this planet has said the same thing and I am just suffering get-offa-my-lawn syndrome.
    You're not going to buy one of those stupid cheese hats are you?

  2. Thanks Melody. Nostalgia can be a pretty destructive thing some times.

  3. Paul, you always impress me. Where do you find all those wonderful quotes? Well said! So much for hoping not to turn into our parents.

  4. Hey, hey.. you young whippersnapper, watch how you treat us Boomers. And step off my lawn.. get a haircut and a job! :-)

    I read a tweet yesterday (which I can't find naturally!) about being wary of politicians who seek to prop up a hero of a bygone era for the purpose of enabling him to wear a cape. Every time I hear Glenn Beck's version of history or someone glossing over the story of how we all got here, I think that history is made one day at a time, one person at a time whose goals and needs conflict with another's whose view of how things should be is shaped by his experience of how things were.

    As I age, I conclude with each passing day that there are no "broken" people, just people who are. But if we were to admit to the broken person theory, the ones that seem to be most broken are those who are trying to live a life to the expectations of the previous generation and failing miserably.

  5. As someone on the tail-end of Gen. Y, I think you're right. I've already found myself shaking my head at the "riff-raff and frivolity" that goes on at the college campus in my town.

    Guess that just means that I'm old like you guys, right? ;-)

  6. I attended a seminar on socio-economics and generation gaps a few years ago. It was conducted by Steelcase as they explained their consideration for future generations in their R&D labs and think tanks. Interestingly they explained to us not just how they expect the millenials to turn out but also why they got to be that way. One key element was a sort of vocational attention deficit, leading them to change jobs quickly even if they weren't at all bad at it. In response Steelcase knew it had to find solutions that would cater to a very mobile crowd. A crowd willing to work around the clock as long as the work could be done at the time they chose. And a crowd, as it stands, willing to never talk retirement but rather blending working life with some well deserved R&R mixed into it. Forever.
    And now guess what? Who, according to the steelcase team, was to blame for the lack of loyalty in our offspring? Us. the parents.
    Why? Because as part of our mission over the past 20 years we've decided we needed "well rounded" children. We take those guys to Karate, Violin, Baseball and Soccer, preferably all in the same week. What are we saying by doing that? It's ok to try several things. Sure. But we're also saying don't worry if you don't like something, you can always sign up for LaCross next semester.
    So if our Youth won't amount to much ;) we may have to take a good long look in the mirror. Don't you just hate that?

  7. So well researched! I think what is true of my generation (x) is also true of the kids now - no one teaches us how to WORK. I came into the workforce feeling entitled, and I still see the same thing. When "kids" really do work hard, I am totally impressed!!

  8. A thought provoking and pithy analysis. I think there are no general, hard and fast rules about what makes a generation ready, but you can identify individuals who are ready.
    Ashleigh, a gen-X'er :)

  9. I love history so thanks for the historical context. I do think each generation is different, yet each has its strengths and flaws (and stereotypes). At 22 I was married, had an undergrad degree and had lived abroad. Still, I knew very little about the working world. Thanks (as a mom) for being so supportive of the next group of "slackers."

  10. I don’t know. Personally, I am not too impressed with the younger generation, and as a younger person, I vowed I would never say that. Nevertheless, I am not particularly impressed with most of the young people I see these days. Almost all of them get college degrees these days (I never did get one), but I am not impressed with either their knowledge or their skills. I think they have been woefully undereducated in basic skills. The other thing I feel is very lacking is morality, and by that I don’t mean religion. I’m an atheist, but I firmly believe there is a decided right and wrong to things, and I don’t think it’s being taught in schools very much anymore. Along with getting rid of mandatory prayers, they threw out the discussions I had in school in the 1950s (I was born in 1945), in which we would delve into a teacher-led discussion about the rights and wrongs of a situation. Now young people are taught that “no one can really judge,” and so forth, and it comes to mean no rules at all. So MBAs with that set of values go to Wall Street and make the mess that will be with us for a very long time to come.

  11. Inertia is an epidemic that seems to afflict the young. But so does nimble and creative thinking, and a tendency to completely ignore often-perceived obstacles! "Well, why not?" is a question most often asked by young people. We adults are usually the ones listing all the reasons why particular ideas are not possible. Thank goodness these patterns exist so we can learn from each other.
    Sincerely, Pollyanna

  12. I'm in a weird place because I'm right on the cusp of baby boomers and generation X. But I still think this generation is different...I don't think many of them have the problem-solving skills to 'figure it out' because their parents have done too much for them. And yes, it probably is all the baby boomer's fault since that sensitivity is probably a reaction to the old "do it yourself kid" style of parenting.

  13. Beautiful generational and historic comparisons, I love your wide ranging perspective, Paul. Yeah, funny how Boomers and Gen Y's are finding common ground. Apparently the Generation Gap has a short life. As soon as the next gen takes over, we the others join forces to defend their weak ground of "former leaders." and target the new bosses. So true. Of course, that puts you, Sir Gen Y, in the crosshairs. heh. Cindy @urbanverse

  14. Whoops, should have said Gen X.. well, guess I just made you a decade or so younger. voila!

  15. I'll take that decade off Cindy, thanks! Actually I won't. I actually like getting older as strange as that sounds. While I'm not so keen on the sudden nearsightedness and my inability to do the feats of strength and endurance I used to be able to, wisdom is the coolest consolation prize I can think of.

    Thanks all of you for chiming in about this stuff. I think it's interesting, all of it. The lessons to learn from history are usually not the lessons people are led to believe. People really don't change that much from generation to generation despite what the trend watchers say. Everyone starts out as a slacker and rises to what ever occasion presents itself. I don't doubt for a second that Gen Ys and the Milennials and who ever comes next will be fine.


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