Connecting Opportunity With Reality

February 2, 2010 § 8 Comments

Young people have more opportunities than ever before.

Some people will suggest I’m certifiably nuts for that statement. What about the economy? What about the global uncertainty caused by terrorism? What about financial barriers to post-secondary education?

The fact is there have always been challenges to achieving success. There always will be.

In my own realm in the communications field, the possibilities have grown exponentially over the years.

I have moved from being a newspaper reporter with stops in St. Paul and Grande Prairie, Alberta and Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario to corporate writing and editing for a Crown corporation to operating my own communications firm to communications in the education sector to my current position as Manager of Marketing and Communications at the City of Grande Prairie.

Thanks to technology, someone in the communications field here in Grande Prairie could be producing copy for a company in Warsaw, Poland and never set foot in the country. For that matter, an entire website can be produced for a client in Walla Walla, Washington and no actual direct conversation needs to take place.

When I graduated from college, you could be a print, television or radio reporter. Now, you can have a job reporting completely online. There are companies specializing in advising companies and governments on how to maximize social media opportunities.

At the time I left college, Public Relations practitioners were not nearly as widespread as today. Back then, Marshall McLuhan stating, “The medium is the message” still resonated readily with people. Now, there are a myriad of mediums and there is a general recognition in the importance of communications – and the consequences of it being done poorly.

By merely mentioning Grande Prairie, Sault Ste. Marie and Walla Walla, Washington in this Blog, people who have these place names in their Google alerts will be notified about it.

As far as barriers go, I left college at a time when bumper stickers in Alberta read: “God, grant me another oil boom and I won’t piss it away this time.” This may be the first economic crunch of the generation, but it is nothing new for anyone who’s been in the workforce any length of time.

I grew up listening to news of every morning of political strife in Northern Ireland. I remember watching the American troops pull out of Viet Nam.

A similar explosion of career possibilities has occurred in other professions. A whole industry has sprung up around the green movement – my close friends, Cecilia Lu and Sofia Ribeiro, at Kiwano Marketing have found a niche in green marketing.

So, how does all this relate to young people in 2010?

There needs to be a far better connection to the opportunities and the realities.

Many parents and the education system, to a large degree, still have the mindset that little Johnny and Mary, starting out in Grade 1, will go to university because, after all, they need a high level of education to get a good job.

It really is much more complicated than that – and there are enough taxi drivers with degrees to debunk that notion.

In 2002, 58 per cent of Albertans aged 25-34 reported having completed post-secondary education. The rest? Well some would have started into college or university and dropped out while others went directly into the workforce from high school. A significantly high number of students still do not complete high school – in the 30 per cent range in some areas.

It is clear that the vision many of us as parents have when our children begin Kindergarten and the reality is not at all connected in many cases. Nor should it be.

How can we know what skills and aptitudes our children will have at age 5? In my own case, I didn’t even like school until I was in Grade 12.

My son graduated from high school and has attended college, but has decided to take a break until he determines what direction the schooling is taking him.

I support his decision. No education is lost, but when there is not an unlimited source of funds, there needs to be some focus.

Given there is no end of choices, I want my son to find something he is passionate about – unless, as parenting expert Barbara Coloroso would say, that choice is life-threatening, morally-threatening or illegal.

He might be best suited to travel for while and maybe work overseas. Unlike when I was his age, people backpacked in other countries and had to scrape up jobs to continue their travels, there are now actual programs that will help people line up opportunities and help them make arrangements for living abroad.

Far too many people are bored or stuck in a rut before age 30, despite the opportunities.

Sometimes that is because parents or the students themselves rushed a decision about a career choice. In other situations, people’s likes or circumstances change.

I believe a big improvement in the success rate would be made if co-operative education was mandatory for all high school students, even the ones who are adamant they know their career path. Maybe some time in the workforce in their chosen occupation would save thousands of dollars by students realizing a career path is not for them before it is too late.

There also needs to be more flexibility in the system. We can’t always pigeon-hole students and must allow for diverse interests.

A hands-on student may also have an academic side. In a world that emphasizes entrepreneurism, it would be handy if a young person who’s gifted in electronics could also take business courses. From first-hand experience, I know it is easier to operate a company if you have both practical experience and some courses to help you understand the ins and outs of business.

Although the education system has evolved in recent years, more needs to be done to ensure students are prepared for the realities of the real world, particularly given so many don’t actually attend post-secondary.

I am pleased there is more recognition that students acquire knowledge in a variety of ways and teachers are being instructed in how to address differentiated learning.

More parents need to realize they need to have a significant role in their children’s education. We shouldn’t criticize the education system if we’ve invested little in knowing how it works or supporting the people in it.

Our children’s teachers spend more waking hours with our kids than we do during the week, yet far too many educators get little support. In fact, a lot of people seem to think they could do a better job.

Society needs to do more, too. It was enough that schools were expected to teaching Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. Then it was sex education and drug education. As families became more dysfunctional and social problems became more prevalent, they have had to become part-time psychologists and counsellors.

Now, in many schools, kids are being fed at the school before classes get under way in recognition that children learn better with a full stomach.

There is an old African proverb that it takes an entire village to educate a child.

If we expect little Johnny and Mary to capitalize on the opportunities, then all of us must do more to make it happen. We need to be willing to change our thinking about how reality and opportunities can better connect.
As author and motivational speaker Tony Robbins notes, “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.”


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§ 8 Responses to Connecting Opportunity With Reality

  • Good article, thankyou for your information so very helpfull to me. Keep the good work!!!

  • Clint Cora says:

    One of the things I’ve noticed is how out of touch many kids are, even those who are in college. I speak to college students as well as working adults as a professional speaker. What I’ve noticed is that the college kids do not seem to be ready for any type of motivation talk, at least not the same as with the working adults. Many of them are not thinking about careers or their futures. As a result, many of them are clueless when it comes to goal setting, finances and other life skills.

    The working adults in contrast, seem to be thirsty for motivational talks. Maybe the college kids need to get a few years of real world experience including rents, mortgages, raising screaming kids, nine to fives, etc., before they need the same type of motivation that the working adults do.

    Now the question is, are the college kids out of touch because of what the parents did?

  • Andrea says:

    Great blog posting. Resonates with me on all levels (still being in that age group that has done the formal education thing but took a long time to find a career path). The world is a big exciting place, all it takes is ambition to discover our place in it.

  • renovatorswife says:

    interesting post, especially given your personal perspective. I agree that there are loads of opportunities out there, but with the age of digital reporting and writing as you’ve mentioned, I wonder if up and coming writers will be lost in a sea of crappy writers since anyone can write and be read at any time. Outside of writers (which obviously is my personal soapbox!) I’m sure there are similar issues – designers, for example may face the same concern. Perhaps those occupations will start to fade into simply ‘skills’ and other occupations will emerge.

    Clearly I’m feeling a tad negative today, I need to go make a tea and shake that off! 🙂

  • Paul Roberts says:

    Hard to disagree with any of the above. I think what is different between now and a generation ago is that expectations have changed. When I set out in the recession of the early 1990s, I and many people like me were just happy to have a job, an income and a decent lifestyle. Today, after 15 years of full employment, admittedly brought to a shuddering halt in the last 18 months have meant people generally and younger people in particular have a far higher level of expectation in every aspect of their lives: work, travel, leisure, relationships etc. The loss of the perceived ‘right’ to all of the above has caused an understandable backlash and the inevitable ‘we have it so much worse than you did’. But in reality, expectation starts at a far higher level for many people today. Interesting stuff though.

  • Cory says:

    I agree with where you’re coming from, there are definitely far more avenues to success now than there were 20 years ago. But as a 23yo I can tell you firsthand that the economy is a huge obstacle for those with little career experience, and so there are much fewer opportunities for young people today than there were, say, 3 years ago. This Business Week article is pretty insightful if you haven’t read it –

  • David, I commend your boldness on tackling such a complex and deep topic on a short blog. I do agree that this is an age where opportunities are vast due to our ever-shrinking world thanks to technology–especially internet. I’d challenge yourself and others who’ve read this to go deeper into just one of your ideas on a future article.

  • Interesting topic.

    I agree that there’s a vast world of opportunities and that young people are most flexible to take a stake at this. But it is also connected with the North American culture, and this “can-do” attitute that has prevailed over the centuries. Being raised in “The Old Continent”, I can witness how this passion to “venge” in life is still strong here.

    This sentiment, paired with the “I want it and I want it now” attitute leveraged by the new (fast) media such as the internet – and powered by search moguls like Google – gives this generation the tools it needs to succeed: passion and urgency.

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