“OK, What do I do next?”
“Well, you go to University and get a degree. It’s important you have one, so you can get a better job.”
“Ok, great. That sounds ideal. How much will it cost me?…How much? Really? Well, I guess if it gets me the better jobs then it makes sense in the long term. Let’s do it.”
“So, you are going to pay me how much? But, I have a degree.”
“Everyone has a degree.”
This little exchange is not about saying degrees are meaningless, they are not, at all, they are extremely important. It is about what is implicitly promised to the younger generation through the education system.
I am proposing that what is promised is no longer true. Whether that be the result of conscious or unconsciously built systems in society.
Important: This post may get a little ranty, possibly political. It is not about blame, it is about understanding how two generations, through no fault of their own, live in different worlds.
A Little Background…
So, that’s quite possibly a bit of a bold claim but let me explain a little more behind my thinking.
To understand what on earth I am rambling about we need to go back in time a little.
At the end of the 19th Century, education was very much built upon obedience. That is to say, you must do what you are told, or else! This system of education was very much all about rote learning. Simple tasks, done repetitively instilled through hard discipline.
The outcome of this type of education were people who did not question authority and followed rules. They worked well in jobs with relentless and monotonous tasks, such as factory work. So perfect for a heavily industrialised economy. Also, absolutely perfect for the military.
However, there is one fatal flaw to a population that does not question authority. Those in power get away with a lot. And as we know from history this had drastic consequences in the early 1900’s.
Now, I am not saying by any means that this education system is solely responsible, but it certainly had a huge influence on the early world wars of the 20th century. People did as they were told, no matter what.
A New Society is Formed…
Following the world wars, society had shifted. The welfare state was established and other industries started to prosper. Blind obedience was no longer the raison d’etre of the education system.
A new form of education needed to be created. This evolved into schools based on conformance. No longer was the implicit message, do as you’re told or else, it was now do as you are told and we will look after you.
This created a society of individuals who were cognitively flexible but still dependent. Perfect for the new jobs in advertising, finance, or law.
This new way of educating young people was reinforced by the wider structures of society. There was a strong welfare state, a well oiled NHS, pensions, jobs for life. If you did follow the rules, society will take care of you and you will be OK, no matter what.
The message worked!
A System Not Fit For the Changing World…
This system created unknown abundance. But then society began to change, priorities shifted.
In the early 1980’s the structures of the welfare state were starting to evolve and be chipped away at.
Following on from this, the idea of jobs for life quickly diminished.
The trend hasn’t stopped since then. The NHS is decreasing in its reach, the welfare state continues to be drawn back, and state pensions seem like a bit of a pipe dream for most people under 35.
Add on top of this the squeeze in wages and the neverending growth in personal debt. Society is a totally different animal to what it used to be.
So, how has education adapted to this change?
Well, it continues to be very much based on conformity, do as are you are told and you will be OK. Get a degree and you will get a better job.
Now to someone in their 40’s, 50’s or 60’s this is a reality, they have lived that. In fact, they are still living it. Therefore, who can blame them for that worldview?
For anyone under about 35, this promise is patently untrue.
If I follow the rules and I am lucky to leave university with only £35,000 worth of debt and a degree whose value is diminishing by the year.
You leave university and are eager to find work. If you can’t, you are reluctantly supported by the state, in a sort of “you are a criminal kind of way.”
You implicitly feel “I followed the rules, I did as you said but now nothing is like you said it would be. Argh!”
You blame yourself. Your anxiety goes into overdrive.
They Are Simply Unprepared
This is the reality to the younger generation. They are simply unprepared for society as it is. No wonder anxiety levels are through the roof.
Now, I am neither saying how society is, is good or bad. It is simply that the education system has not adapted to prepare our younger generation for the realities of how life is now.
They need to be independent, resilient and creative. An education system that says do as you are told and you will be OK, is not going to produce these types of individuals.
A system built upon support and respect, that says “I will help you grow and achieve what you would like to as long as you simply turn up.”
Putting the individual at the centre stage to learn to take responsibility is an absolute essential to creating young people prepared for the society we live in.
Businesses Need to Make Up The Gap
As a business, it is your duty to make this gap up. Create environments of learning which promote personal responsibility, creativity, and resilience.
As frustrating as this may sound to an employer, “Why isn’t school preparing them properly?” It is a reality and you need to respond in a way that takes advantage of this disadvantage.
Build an environment for young people to flourish and grow the skills they need. You will reap the rewards.
This post isn’t about blaming any generation at all. It is about understanding each other’s perspective and what we can do to create a more harmonious society, full of young people ready to tackle the challenges they will face.
Whatever your upbring and life experience it is always beneficial to remember that everyone has a different perspective on life. Simply resisting that perspective and saying it is wrong certainly is a way to live. However, it is not going to help you engage with those very people you are now trying to work with. Take steps to understand and then take some steps to bridge the gap.