Colin Powell on the Good Morning America in 2008 stating that some responsibility must be placed on students for their success in school, Colon Powell and his wife on the same show in 2010 pleading with the public to serve as mentors to young people, President Obama in his state of the union address that a high school diploma no longer guarantees a good career. Now I could very quickly turn this into a conversation about the number of kids whose families make just enough for them not to qualify for financial aid but not enough to send them to college, or the vast amount of low income, qualifying students for whom the Pel grant does not even cover basic tuition and books, better yet the growing number of careers that require a masters degree and reduction federal Pel grant money leaves students without options after their undergraduate degrees, but it is time to talk about something else. It is time to talk about the fate awaiting those who are lucky enough to go to college, lucky enough to finish, who hold a degree in their hand, but then what? For years the picture of that what has been projected by the baby boomers on down to my own generation, now beginning to raise children, as a better, middle class, sustainable life.
However, my generation on through the current classes of young people working their way though high school and college, graduating are finding something totally different. They are finding that education is meaningless, that college degrees no longer open doors, no longer carry any kind of reasonable guarantee of employment. President Obama himself is behind the times in saying a high school diploma does not necessarily lead to a good job when for almost a decade the bachelors degree has been called the new high school diploma. Today it often takes a masters degree and several years experience to even be considered for many jobs. Even those choosing career fields where the bachelors degree still holds weight enough for them to become employed, it is useless without the coveted experience almost all employers are requiring. Yet either one of two things happens, students never find this out until after they graduate, or there are no internships available for them to get experience. On top of that, when places like college career services contact companies to arrange an internship according to a student’s specific interest or degree field all they get is no, no, no; further, most college career services departments are so inept students are left on their own to try and negotiate internships with businesses that refuse to give the ordinary citizen the time of day in that context.
Internships are also something that demand knowledge and skills students typically do not get until the last 2 years of their degree often as seniors; add that to the vying done for existing internship slots and students usually get one internship in their college career. The problem, average internships are 6 months and cannot compete with employer requirements of at least 1-2 years of experience to be considered for most jobs.
If they are lucky enough to get an internship, it still does not seem to mean anything in the job market; as was the case of one social work intern who when she began was encouraged to apply for any jobs that came up in this organization. The young woman went on to turn down a job in order to complete her commitment to the organization, and when there was a position open she applied. She was passed over in favor of a wife of one of the hiring managers relatives, who had no education or experience in the field. Now this may well have been about a lack of knowledge or poor job performance on the part of the intern, but in this case, not only did the employer pass over this intern, but all other interns in the area, all other applicants that may have worked similar jobs or at least had education in the field for someone who had neither.
Much ado has been made in the last decade about did you get a degree in a viable, marketable field of study; the tone being no more English degrees, history degrees, design degrees and expecting to get a job. But it doesn’t seem to matter what you get your degree in these days; according to recent statistics one third of 18-29 year olds are unemployed. This included graduates of a prominent engineering school who were taking low paying internships because there were no jobs, and they were the lucky ones. We have people who have bachelors degrees in education who can’t get jobs as teachers. Unfortunately higher education often leads to unemployment because degree holders cannot find work in their field and no one else wants them; they are overqualified for minimum wage work and not qualified for anything else. We are also sending a very dangerous message to young people when we start telling them the only viable fields of study are health care, education and social work, what top job analysts have been saying for some time. Why, because we are telling them right off the bat, if you want to make a decent wage, your going to have to do something you may hate.
This phenomenon regrettably spans across all forms of education, the most unlikely and unconventional as well as the traditional. Not only does it also apply to tech and trade schools, but it applies to the requirements for everyday jobs like office work; employers’ demands for computer program knowledge surrounding this type of work is insatiable. Many communities career training and local library programs, if they have such programs at all, don’t that teach the level of clerical skill and the ones that do can’t keep up with the growing technology demands. For those who do have access to these learning opportunities, by the time they finish the course or series of courses, to have the advanced understanding of the software desired by employers, it is obsolete. Being armed with such abilities takes care of only one hurdle; then they have to contend again with the years of experience and on the job skills needed by employers. Internships in this field, as with every other one are scarce; an added challenge for those who manage to land an internship or volunteer position is that they will be given the most medial tasks, stuffing envelopes, answering phones while others do the more complicated tasks. So when it comes time to create your rèsumè or fill in the job duties on an application you still don’t have the advanced skills needed to work in offices that have openings.
It has gotten so bad in this day and age that even when young people and those wishing to begin a new career try to educate themselves by talking to people in their chosen field, assuming someone in that area is willing interact with them, the information gathered is too often incomplete, inaccurate or just not there. One person after years of trying to get some basic information, with the help of a job placement agency, finally was put in touch with a freelance writer, a magazine editor and a newspaper columnist, in hopes that the insights and facts gained from them would aid in employing the individual as a writer. Sadly, that was not the case; the freelance writer had no idea where the market was headed, said that web based publications might be the way to go but was unsure and was surprised by the experience preferred in job postings the person had seen. Fact is, jobs in this industry demand at least one year of experience; many veteran editors and other mainstream journalism workers with years of experience can’t find jobs in this recession. Fact is all publications are going web based or to digital readers.
The magazine editor was only slightly more helpful advising the person to get an internship, gave several ideas as to places to attempt doing so, but gave no specific internships available in the area, nor did they preface their comments with the fact there were none available in town. They went on to tell the eager information seeker to wow people with their query letter, gave examples of some of the bad ones they had received, but did not supply any good cover letters, a web site or other place to view good examples of such letters, did not or could not simply list the components of a good query letter. Further, their tone made the person fear pushing for the facts they needed, afraid they would anger someone they would be asking for a job from in as little as two years.
Upon meeting the newspaper columnist, the person was excited to hear they also had an English degree and had successfully gotten a job; the excitement was short lived however as they began to talk. They talked about their work as a stringer in high school, their internship out of state, and they talked as if they were talking to someone in the business, completely unaware the person they were talking to was lost. Not only that, but discussing the writing samples the columnist requested to see, the person was almost looked down on for long complex sentences, told the newspaper likes short and punchy, told the op ed section was mere paragraphs their multi-page articles. When asked about internships the columnist knew of none, at the last minute mentioned the newspaper’s own internship but nothing about how to apply before leaving for a meeting.
Follow up done by the placement agency lead the columnist state the person did not have the skill needed for the paper’s internship, suggested classes in journalistic writing; the issue, with the prominent journalism school in town there were no simple classes the person could take only degrees they could get. Not only did that mean a minimum two year commitment, without working, it meant more costly education the person could not afford. Plus the columnist, to the knowledge of all involved, was not in charge of the internships and had not spoken to the editor about the person he visited with, leaving the person with two dominate impressions the columnist was trying to save their job and the newspaper wanted skills only possessed by journalism students, familiarity with AP style, inverted pyramid style writing. All of which the person would learn on an internship and this person was particularly eager to learn, but was never given the chance.
This is what you get when you go in search of career information; the reality is people in the business can’t even answer your questions. So, no matter how you try to educate yourself, the job market is still out of your reach. Of course students should be held accountable for doing their part in their education, of course we need mentors for kids who don’t have the best start in life, the best roll models or the kids who just need to see someone they want to be like, but we need other things too. What Colin Powell should be pleading for on national television is for businesses to pick up the ball again, offer the internships, apprenticeships and the professional mentoring that was around in his early days.
He should be beseeching companies to stop blowing off interested people who want to know what they do, who want to know how you get the kind of job they have. He should be pushing for employment reform legislation that mandates the length of internships, that mandates job training for all those hired on a job, that puts rules and laws in place about how much experience and knowledge you can demand, when internships are only 6 months, when you have eager applicants looking for knowledge and a foot in the door. Colin Powell wants to do something for this nation’s kids, he should be pushing the American people to write their congressmen insisting on these changes, so that when we tell our kids to be involved in their education, when we tell them to go on to college, tell them that if they do these things they will go far, they actually can.