Saturday, June 18, 2011

Saturday Morning Musings - kids, jobs & education

Last night saw a year 17 dinner of parents from eldest's class. We have been meeting together every so often for dinner since Helen finished school. I always enjoy it. However, this dinner crystallised something that had been at the back of my mind when I found myself asking what use a degree was.
Let me explain as best I can.

I am towards the end of my working career at a point where I have been trying to change the way I work to allow more time for writing while still earning money. A fair number of my friends and colleagues have retired, others like me need or want to keep working. All this means that I have a pretty fair knowledge of working conditions, difficulties and expectations at this end of the working age spectrum.

My  daughters are at the other end, finishing university. Some of their friends have already graduated and have been looking for work. It is this area I find especially confusing. In simple terms, with all my experience I find it hard to understand just what work my girls might do or how they might find that job.

Talking around the group last night, some of our kids have faced considerable difficulty in finding work. These are well educated kids with generally good academic results as well as extra curricular activities.

Other kids have changed direction. One, for example, is now adding a qualification to allow her to become a para-medic. In her case, she will have two degrees and five years of study before she becomes an ambo.

Listening to the discussion with people talking as parents but also as employers, led to a shift in my thinking. I had thought of part time work as a necessary evil to help kids get through university. In fact, in a world awash with degrees that part time work has become a distinguishing feature, a requirement, to getting a job.

In some cases, the part time work actually becomes the career. In more cases, the part time work provides experience and, importantly, evidence of the people and organisational skills employers are looking for. In a perhaps ironic way, the education we so emphasise has become a second order thing simply because it is so widely available. Employers cannot make judgements on education, but rely instead on work experience.

One of youngest friend's chose not to go to university. Instead, he worked in retail and has now accepted a position as a bank teller. He is quite ambitious. I suspect that he might actually study later on, but only if it seems relevant. Compared with youngest, he now has four years earnings plus a present salary roughly equivalent to that he might have got had he gone to university and started work now.

Looking just at the young, I have come to the conclusion that our workforce has become more rigid.
One element is growing credentialism. We require extended formal qualifications for what were once lower to mid level jobs. In relative salary terms, they still are. This credentialism makes the workforce less flexible because it makes it harder for people to move.

A second element is the way the workforce between my kids and my generation has become constipated. There has been a very big increase in the number of contract and part time work, but the core workforce fortunate enough to still have something close to permanent employment sits like a block in the middle.

A year or so back I did some contract work for NSW Government agencies. The thing that struck me was the absence of young people. The youngest people in the core workforce were twenty seven, and there were very few of them. Effectively, we had an aging core workforce surrounded by temps and contractors.

I don't think that this case is unique.

I am not saying that organisations should shake out their core work forces, although I think that the absence of renewal recruitment strategies is a problem. I am just musing on the symptoms of what I believe to be a problem.

As a dad, I am not too worried about my own girls.

Eldest will go into the full time workforce with good people skills, five years working with one employer on a part time basis, experience as a netball coach, almost six months work experience with the Australian Embassy in Copenhagen, lots of referees.

Youngest will face more problems because she is more variable, more eccentric, interested in art and writing, in doing new things. Still, she can also be very focused when she sets her mind to it.

Yet as a dad with girls in their early twenties I do worry about all the kids I know. As a social analyst, I also worry about the overall pattern.

In all this, I wondered about the experiences of other parents who might read this blog. Am I alone in being a bit confused? What was your experience with your kids? What are your and their expectations?


Stephen said...

Hi, I just stumbled upon your blog and I loved it. I'm a teacher from regional victoria and I think your insights into the education system is spot on. Thanks for taking the time to put your thoughts down in writing.

Jim Belshaw said...

Welcome Stephen, and thank you. I see that you have just started blogging. Do keep it up. It's worthwhile.

Anonymous said...

I'm still pondering whether your use of the word "constipated" is an elegant revival in figurative terms of the word's original literal sense, or a metaphor which gives quite a lot more food [yuk yuck] for thought!

Jim Belshaw said...

I grinned, Marcellous. Elegant revival, of course!