condemning many of our young people
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We are condemning many of our young people to unnecessary failures!

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Myths about education options….

Author’s note: This article is primarily written to benefit our young people

Many of our young people are losing upwards of 10 years of potential. To my knowledge, there is no empirical data to “prove” this statement but there is much evidence to support it. Average ages of students in technical/community colleges, apprenticeships, and other postsecondary options are upwards of 28 years old. More and more of them are degree bearing students that can’t find employment. One failure!


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We are also harming our young people in the process! We are telling 2/3 of young people they aren’t successful because they don’t pursue or achieve a bachelor’s degree or higher. Another failure! Not only does it harm our young people, it is driving us to a crisis in our workforce in both the jobs that require degrees and those that don’t! Somewhere along the way we have been sold the idea that we are a knowledge-based society and that is the way we have prioritized our education. We have created a lot of very knowledgeable young people that can’t do what we need with the knowledge. Knowing things doesn’t necessarily equate to things being done!

Failure with debt to go with it! Those that don’t succeed in completing a degree have typically completed about two years of school, gained the associated debt and were not encouraged to consider other non-university options and gain those skills and abilities. As a result, they take the minimum or low wage jobs until they sort out a better direction. Another group of students that decided not to pursue a university degree are stigmatized as losers or unsuccessful. As a result, they struggle with what to do and try working at any job they can find and/or living at home and struggling with what to do. Quite often making bad life choices and then having to recover from them.

This issue is even affecting those that achieve the success of gaining a degree! The last group is the one containing students that have spent, on average, six years to earn a bachelor’s degree. They have also incurred a considerable amount of debt, on average about $30K to $40K! We also have a portion of these young people that get employed, get a job and it has nothing to do with their degree or it is in their degree area, but they hate the job and are miserable. These students have done as encouraged and gotten “any” degree. The problem is that we are currently supplying more degree bearing people than the job market requires, and they are the least qualified among that group because they have “only” a bachelor’s degree. They are also now “over-educated” and “under-qualified” for the 65% share of the job market. This is exemplified in what we experienced with “Occupy Wall Street.” It is captured in the images below.


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Our primary means of preparing the next generation of workers is broken! Our current education system promotes and prioritizes that our young people must go to a university and achieve a bachelor’s degree or higher to be “successful.” By doing so, it has stigmatized any other efforts to get an education and prepare for other post-high school options. Anything but a “college preparatory” track is considered for those that can’t quite meet the mark. Education is telling our students that to be truly successful one must get a college degree of some kind (what kind doesn’t matter, just get a degree). This is “Industrial Age” thinking and priority.

We, in business and industry, are contributing to the problem too! We complain of what we don’t have in terms of workforce, yet we continue to make a degree “the” priority. At the same time, we complain we don’t have people to fill the other 65% of the jobs we have. We support scholarships for university attendance but not scholarships to help a young person pursue an apprenticeship or industry-based training or even the military. We conduct college based hiring fairs and recruiting events and typically ignore other types. When we recruit in schools, we typically court the academic students only. We celebrate academic recognition’s and ignore other student accomplishments. We seek and offer internships primarily to current or future university-bound students. We enable the education system to continue to prepare young people different than what is needed.

We can and must fix the problem! In order to fix this problem, it is going to require that business and industry partner with education. We can’t just be a “piggy bank” for education any longer, we must truly partner and have a voice in what happens in education. We must be engaged, encouraging and supportive. We have to serve on committees, boards and advisory groups in education. I have seen it from inside education (as a teacher) and outside, we are being asked to be engaged, really engaged. Our needs for the future workforce have changed and we can’t expect the education system to read our minds, we have to actively partner to tell them what we need. We have to change the message and attitudes.


MUST be that all students need additional education/training after high school, AND there are many avenues to accomplish this, AND they are all equally valuable and successful! We must promote doing as well as knowing, NOT just knowing. One of the best ways is expecting our schools to have, value and promote career education for ALL students as an equal part of their education. After all, they will ALL have careers one day! A good cross section follows: a targeted degree, military, apprenticeships, technical/community college, business/industry-based training and certifications. Students pursuing these should be applauded and supported in all of them, not just getting a degree, any degree.


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For additional insight into this, please watch this short video and share it broad and wide

You can also read an insightful report from Harvard as well: Harvard “Pathways to Prosperity” Report

W. Kevin Ward is an author of numerous articles on education and leadership, speaker and business coach. He has a passion to help people reach their full potential through learning to be a leader, of one (themselves) or many. He speaks on a variety of topics including education, leadership and generations in the workforce. Find out more about W. Kevin on his LinkedIn profile. You can also pre-order his book via his website.

Through A Teacher’s Eyes, A Businessman’s Approach To Better Learning


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