Career Readiness: Excelling on the Job

“Some people dream of success… while others wake up and work for it.”

~Author Unknown

It’s day one on the job, and we can’t wait for our corner office, leather chair, and stunning view. Not so fast! Success on the job (including the perks!) takes hard work, and no one is entitled to it. In today’s competitive workplace, employers are managing their staffs with greater scrutiny than ever. Consequently, we must continually justify ourselves by adding value to our employer.

There’s a BIG difference between the MVPs in an organization and those whose careers stagnate. So for our students’ benefit, it’s critical that our career readiness training includes the secrets of workplace superstars. With so many teens and young adults lacking job experience, this segment offers a vital glimpse into the demands of the workplace. The better our students understand this now, the better equipped they will be to knock it out of the park from the first day.

Here are our recommendations for setting students up to excel in the workplace:

  1. Pursue a well-matched career. All-Star employees play to their strengths, and that begins with selecting a career that matches their skills, interests, and personal preferences. This is one reason why students should conduct a comprehensive assessment of themselves and career options (described in an earlier blog) before making a decision. It is also why parents and educators should play a role of guiding the process rather than directing it toward a particular outcome. There is no substitute for loving our work, and that can only be possible if it fits us like a glove.
  2. Model the qualities of workplace MVPs. Career success goes far beyond skills and smarts. Ask employers to identify what stands out among their most admired employees and you’ll hear qualities such as high standards of excellence, integrity, dependability, relational/communication skill, positivity/enthusiasm, motivation/strong work ethic, resilience, humility, loyalty, professionalism, focus, creativity, and a willingness to go above and beyond. Encourage your students to take these to heart.
  3. Deliver excellent job performance. It’s critical that students understand how they will likely be evaluated on the job. Their performance will link directly to their pay, promotion potential, and overall satisfaction. Generally speaking, their job reviews will include rankings on subjective criteria such as communication, attitude, teamwork, and dependability, as well as on specific goals for the performance period. We recommend sharing the following strategies with students starting on their first day:
  • Ask their supervisor to define excellence on the job and in each of the evaluation criteria. This offers invaluable insights how he/she will be rated in these subjective areas. Then, of course, deliver it!
  • Ask their supervisor to identify the one to three most significant accomplishments the employee could achieve in the next six months. Then, deliver them!
  • Ask their supervisor to share how he/she and the department are being evaluated and how they can contribute to their success. Then, deliver!
  1. Contribute to their employer’s success. MVPs go above and beyond. They proactively seek ways to build value in the eyes of their employer. And, the best way to do this is to positively impact the organization’s success. There are many ways to do this, but here are some of the most powerful:

Improve sales. This can be achieved through adding new customers, building customer loyalty, developing new products/services, and supporting the sales effort.

Reduce expenses. Lowering costs and improving efficiency directly benefit the bottom line.

Innovating. Whether it’s new products or services or better ways to position the company in sales settings, these efforts contribute to the employer’s brand and revenue growth.

Leading. Whether it’s leading projects, teams, or people, the potential for significant impact and reputational value are huge. Seize the moment and use every opportunity to demonstrate leadership skills.

By knowing how to deliver excellent job performance, your students will be poised to reach their full career potential!

Career Readiness Essentials: Developing Your Career Savvy

“A lot of fellows nowadays have a B.A, M.D., or Ph.D.

Unfortunately, they don’t have a J.O.B.”

~”Fats” Domino

 

Wouldn’t it be nice if employers would appear on our doorstep with lucrative job offers and automatically recognize our greatness? Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way. But, judging by the horror stories we routinely hear from employers, some are mistakenly acting as if it were true. The fact is, we may have all of the qualifications in the world, but if we don’t know how to effectively market ourselves, we simply won’t land the job. Marketing doesn’t always come naturally to us, but it is a learned skill with proper training.

Based on our conversations with recruiters and young adult applicants, there are some missing ingredients in today’s career readiness training at school and in the home. From recruiters, we hear about poor interview skills, mistake-laden resumes/cover letters, and lacking professional decorum. Meanwhile, students are struggling with networking, taking the initiative, searching for open positions, and persuasively marketing themselves. It needn’t be this way.

With that backdrop, here are our recommendations for developing marketing savvy in your career readiness training:

  1. Create a competitive mindset. A winning strategy begins with a winning attitude. Succeeding in today’s job market requires initiative, proactivity, and competitive instincts. In most cases, you’ll be initiating your own job search versus being recruited. And, you can expect to compete against a worthy pool of applicants who all want the same thing. You must stand out!
  2. Build a skills inventory. In last week’s blog, we discussed the importance of building your competitive edge. Now, it’s time to get it down on paper. What are your special skills and leadership attributes that make you unique and valuable, especially for the position at hand? What supporting evidence (i.e., accomplishments, recognitions, stories) can you cite?
  3. Develop a compelling resume and generic cover letter. Create powerful documents that share your achievements, history, leadership credentials, and competitive edge in a manner that is appealing to potential recruiters. Be sure they are checked and cross-checked to avoid typos and are reviewed by at least one professional adult. Recruiters are perfectionists when reviewing written correspondence!
  4. Display a professional social media presence. Create a professional profile in locations such as LinkedIn. And, understand that most recruiters will review your posts and tweets on various social media platforms. Delete any and all posts that may reflect negatively on you in the eyes of a recruiter! And, from now on, consider that a potential recruiter is in your audience when you post or tweet. It’s a great filter.
  5. Discover the available job openings. In order to land a great job, you need to know where and how to find them! Familiarize yourself with job posting sources (e.g., Indeed.com, craigslist.org, local newspapers) and with open positions among companies of interest (contained in their website). What job titles best capture your career interest? What companies in your area excite you? Develop a matrix of job openings by title/position and the companies offering them to help direct your search efforts.
  6. Tap into your network of ambassadors. These days, the overwhelming majority of positions are filled by individuals who had an “inside advantage.” So, when you identify job openings of interest, explore whether you know someone in that firm who can go to bat for you. This is huge! In addition, be sure that your network of advocates is aware of your job search so they can offer suggestions and valuable connections.
  7. Master the interview. Successful interviewing involves preparation, preparation, and preparation. It begins with thoroughly researching the company and the position to help demonstrate your interest and ask compelling questions. When they ask why you’re interested in this position, you’d best have a convincing answer! And, be sure to master the art of the interview by making a great first impression, demonstrating confidence, enthusiasm and likeability, having persuasive answers to likely questions (including why they should hire you!), and displaying professional verbal and nonverbal skills. Role playing is a must! Remember, practice makes less imperfect!
  8. Have a good follow up strategy. Personalized, hand-written thank you notes are a must and are to be mailed promptly after the interview. Be sure they know you are interested in the position. Depending on their process, also consider a phone call expressing thanks and interest.

With preparation, training, and practice, your students can successfully market themselves and win the job. Let us know how we can support your career readiness efforts with our What I Wish I Knew at 18 resources. We’re here to help!

To Land Your Dream Job, Build Your Edge

One important key to success is self confidence.

An important key to self confidence is preparation.

~Arthur Ashe

 

So, you’ve buckled down and identified several candidate careers (or majors) that could be your perfect match. Now, it’s time to turn this vision into a reality! It’s a highly competitive job market out there, so you’ll need a solid plan to acquire the necessary qualifications to win. That means building your competitive edge—the next step to becoming career ready.

It’s difficult to generalize the qualification process because it varies so much by career choice. Do you prefer to dive right into the job market? Are you willing to get your Bachelor’s, Master’s, Ph.D, or more? Often, it’s the qualifications that help us narrow our career options to ones that are realistic and achievable.

When entering the workforce, chances are the basic qualifications will be in the following areas:

  • Education: degree, areas of specialization, GPA, certifications, specific courses
  • Work experience: minimum years and particular positions; internships and apprenticeships; training and professional certifications
  • Skills: technical proficiencies, physical requirements, familiarity with systems, relational and soft skills, etc.
  • References: they had better be good!

In last week’s newsletter, we identified several websites that show the various qualification requirements for different careers. Familiarize yourself with them and use this information to narrow your choices. Be realistic.

Now, in order to position yourself to land the job, you’ll want to go far beyond the minimum qualifications cited above. Employers are looking for special evidences of leadership, initiative, and accomplishment. For this reason, we strongly recommend that you speak with actual practitioners who hold your desired career position. Seek out advice and wisdom from the pros, especially to discover ways you can set yourself apart from the competition. They will be able to offer far deeper insights in building your edge than your high school or college career counselor/recruiter whose knowledge is more general. What leadership skills, internships, experiences, and trainings can you undertake that will stand out? Summer jobs? Camps? Job shadows? Extra courses?

We also encourage you to review the results of the state of Virginia’s workplace readiness survey of employers. You can access it here. You’ll notice that many of the top 21 skills are soft skills. Yes, today’s employers are looking far beyond your degrees and GPAs… they want people with great attitudes and leadership skills.

Great references are another necessity. Many times, they can overcome average academic performance with great stories about you. Whether they’re professors, teachers, coaches, mentors, or supervisors, all of them are prized potential references on your behalf. What have you done to deserve the highest praise among people who can potentially become your ambassadors?

So, what’s your story, from a prospective employer’s perspective? Remember, you’re competing against other worthy candidates, and the more you can demonstrate passion, initiative, and real life examples of your leadership skills, the more an employer will want you! Make yours a great story.

Educators and parents, be sure that your career readiness training incorporates these vital components. They will help your students build the edge they’ll need to win.

 

 

 

Finding a Career That Fits YOU

Life is filled with important decisions, but few are as critical as selecting a well-matched career. Not only is it our primary income source, but it also is the most direct way we apply our skills and talents in life. With all of the time we spend in our careers, it pays to make this one of the most well researched decisions in life. That means inventorying our skills, interests, and personal preferences, and researching different career options that play to our strengths, are realistically accessible, and will offer fulfillment and sufficient income.

Many high schoolers feel inordinate pressure to know NOW what career they should pursue, but we believe this is premature and speculative. Students are still discovering themselves, they haven’t been exposed to a variety of career options, and they haven’t even taken advanced courses. Accordingly, we believe it’s more appropriate to train our teens on the process of career exploration rather than placing undue pressure on them to decide on specifics at this time. For most, it’s far too soon.

Educators and parents, you play an important role in facilitating a career exploration process that promotes research and discovery, rather than forcing a definitive conclusion. In this spirit, we offer these suggestions to you:

  1. Build career awareness and curiosity. Encourage students to become career conscious and to connect with people who have potentially interesting careers. Parents, you can take a leadership role in making the introductions.
  2. Take career assessment surveys. Many sites (e.g., careercruising.com and careerbridge.wa.gov) offer excellent information and assessments to assist with career exploration. Often, they include both potential careers and industries to help students channel their interests and skills. They also provide valuable information regarding demand, qualifications, and marketing tips (resume writing, interviewing, etc.). Importantly, students should consider why particular career areas rose to the top of their list and why others were at the bottom. It’s a great self discovery exercise.
  3. Consider all key career selection factors. Selecting a career match is a multi-faceted decision. Key considerations include: 1) skills and aptitudes, 2) interests, 3) ability to obtain the necessary qualifications, 4) personal preferences (e.g., personality compatibility, workplace environment, stress level, relational vs. task orientation, work hours, flexibility), 5) demand, 6) income requirements/potential, and 7) location.
  4. Determine whether it’s a career, hobby, or volunteer opportunity. Many students are majoring in areas where actual job opportunities are scarce. In such cases, it may be wise to pursue these interests in their free time rather than enduring a fruitless and frustrating job search.
  5. Parents, remember it’s about them, not you. We often observe high school students planning to pursue the same career as their parent(s). Some of this comes through osmosis (fine), but other times, it is coming from parents who are actively steering (or even directing) this decision (not fine).
  6. Educators, be sure to invite recruiters into your classroom. Classroom visits from recruiters, as well as career fairs, are great opportunities for students to broaden their career horizons and gain real world perspectives from practitioners.
  7. Encourage multiple options. It’s common for students to change their minds regarding their career or college major. It’s also common for students to be so narrowly focused on a specific career that they become discouraged and stagnant when that exact job isn’t available. It always helps to have a Plan B and C to get in the game. Perfection isn’t always possible when you begin your career.

Your students will be well served by taking a rigorous and thoughtful approach to career selection. We invite you to explore our What I Wish I Knew at 18 resources to support their efforts.

Career Readiness Essentials: Knowing What Employers Value

career fairHere’s a true story from my hometown. She was scheduled to arrive for work as a server for a small family restaurant at 5:00. However, she apparently received a better offer. At 4:55 she called the owner, informing him that she was sick and unable to work. But, merely 15 minutes later, she would be posting pictures of herself with friends at a beach party some seven miles away. When she showed up refreshed for work the next day, she was fired on the spot.

This case example is worth sharing in your homes and classrooms because, in various forms, stories like this are becoming commonplace. Whether from inexperience, lack of training, or simply misguided attitudes, many teens and young adults are struggling on the job. They’re learning the hard way that trophies, so easy to come by when they were young, are much more difficult to obtain in the workplace. But, with proper training, stories like this are preventable.

In last week’s installment in our career readiness series, we discussed the importance of self awareness as the necessary first step to a successful career. Finding a good match begins with knowing me!  Now, in the second step, I need to get to know you: my current or potential employer. But, judging from the horror stories I hear, employer perspectives are a missing ingredient in many career readiness programs. Students need to understand that their career success involves much more than smarts and skills.

To this end, here is our top ten list of qualities desired by employers:

  1. Integrity: adherence to moral and ethical principles; trustworthiness
  2. High standards: a commitment to excellence in work, relationships, and attitudes; actively seeks out feedback and professional development
  3. Reliability: dependable in fulfilling responsibilities; adopts an “on time, every time, with excellence” mentality
  4. Motivation/work ethic: self starter who is willing to go “above and beyond;” industrious and efficient and follows instructions
  5. Team player/relational skill: demonstrates positive interpersonal skills with fellow employees, clients, prospects, suppliers, and the community; encourages others and focuses on the company and team over self
  6. Positive attitude/enthusiasm: displays a constructive and uplifting attitude and passion for both work and the company
  7. Innovative: demonstrates curiosity, creativity, and a commitment to improve processes, products, and services
  8. Resilience: faces challenges head on, rebounds from adversity, and resolves conflict along the way
  9. Professional manner: displays a professional attitude, appearance, and communication
  10. Commitment: is loyal to the company’s mission and core values and represents the company well in the community

Whether we’re parents, educators, or mentors, it’s vital that we train the next generation with these guiding principles. While doing so, here are some important things to keep in mind:

  • Help them understand that they are there to serve the company, not the other way around. Disabuse them of any sense of entitlement or notion that the world revolves around them.
  • The time to begin modeling these qualities is NOW. Have your students rank themselves on a 1-5 scale. For which qualities are they a 5-star role model? Where do they need to up their game?
  • Through role-playing exercises, have your students pretend they are the owner of a company recruiting for a new position. What qualities would they be emphasizing as they evaluate candidates? By switching them from their usual subservient role to that of the boss, they will quickly appreciate the employer’s perspective.

Once students appreciate the importance of these workplace qualities, they will be better equipped for their entire career management process. That means better cover letters, resumes, applications, interviews, and on-the-job performance. Understanding the qualities valued by employers should be an integral part of your career training efforts. It would have certainly helped avoid a fiasco in my hometown!

Career Readiness Essentials for School and Home

 

“You’re off to great places! Today is your day.

Your mountain is waiting. So… get on your way!”

~Dr. Suess

 

“So, what do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s a question each of us has received (and often loathed!) countless times in our formative years. For some, like my daughter, the answer was clear from an early age. For most, it’s a trial and error process with midcourse changes—and loads of stress. And, that’s only the beginning.

In my conversations with teens and young adults, I see a generation that is starving for practical career wisdom. Some are struggling with their career (or major) choice. Some have all the credentials, but don’t have a clue how to market themselves and win. In today’s world, where personal initiative and networking are key, those who haven’t adapted are floundering. Finally, those who are underperforming on the job are getting a rude awakening about the ways of the real world.

To some extent, we attribute this to assumptions being made by parents and educators about who is responsible for training what. Parental guidance is all over the map. And, career readiness programs vary widely within high schools, colleges, and universities. Guess who loses?

At LifeSmart, we believe the solution is for all students to receive comprehensive and practical career readiness training to help position them for success. To that end, we are developing this extended blog series to share our vision for effective career preparation. Whether you’re a parent, educator, or student, we hope this advances your career readiness training and identifies any gaps to address.

Essential Elements

In order to holistically prepare our students for career success, we believe that training needs to be much broader than is commonly the case. In our view, the following are necessary ingredients to comprehensive career training:

  1. Self awareness building: understanding one’s self, in terms of assets/skills/strengths, personality profile, interests, and passions. This involves answering the fundamental questions of who am I?, what do I have to offer?, and what are my dreams? Self awareness is a necessary precursor to effective career selection.
  2. Leadership development: understanding the attitudes, behaviors, and practices of honorable and successful people. These qualities not only serve us in our careers, but in all of life. Leadership training is necessary for sustained career excellence.
  3. Career exploration: identifying and evaluating well-suited and accessible careers that play to our strengths, satisfy our preferences, and offer fulfillment and a livelihood. This needs to be one of the most well-researched decisions in our life.
  4. Career qualification: knowing the credentialing and planning required to access one’s chosen career. Through education, training, and experience, we must build a competitive edge that is attractive to future employers.
  5. Career acquisition: understanding the job search process and how to successfully market ourselves in this highly competitive, ever-changing world.
  6. Career mastery: developing a reputation as an “MVP employee” by virtue of one’s character, performance, and contribution to employer success. Together, these improve the odds of achieving our career potential and financial goals.

 Does your career training include all of these elements?

We will be addressing each of these topics over the next two months, deriving from our What I Wish I Knew at 18 resources as well as perspectives from employers. Stay tuned for next week’s discussion on self awareness, and please share this series with those in your sphere of influence. We’d love to hear your thoughts and would enjoy supporting your career readiness efforts.

 

 

 

 

Growing Signs of College Unreadiness

university-graduatesHave you experienced something like the following? You’re invited to a high school graduation party brimming with pride and promise. In a few short months, he/she will be heading off to college to fulfill his/her dreams, so it’s a festive occasion. Then, after a semester, a year, or maybe two, we hear the disheartening news: in an unexpected turn of events, our friend/relative/son/daughter just dropped out. That upbeat graduation party seemed like only yesterday, didn’t it? Now what?

By all accounts, stories like this are becoming more common. Here are a few telltale signs:

  • The US college completion ranking among 28 nations has fallen from first in 1995 to 19th in 2012, according to OECD. That’s a substantial shift in a mere 17 years.
  • Many colleges are reporting significant increases in student demand for mental health counseling services. Nearly 10 percent of students are receiving such treatment. (Note: some of this increase may be due to efforts to destigmatize mental health issues and seeing a counselor. This is a positive)

Clearly, though, these are worrisome trends. Why are so many students struggling? Are they unready?

Peeling the Onion

According to the 2013 Association of College Counseling Center Directors Survey1 of 380 colleges, here are the top 10 reasons cited for student visits with counselors over the 2012-2013 period: Anxiety (46%), Depression (39%), Relationship Issues (35%), Psychotropic Medication (25%), Suicidal Thoughts/Behaviors (18%), Extensive Treatment History (14%), Alcohol Abuse (11%), Self Injury (10%), ADHD (8%), and Drug Abuse (8%). All of these are concerning, but number five is downright alarming.

That anxiety ranks number one shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, the college years are inherently stressful, with students facing new environments, responsibilities, competition, and career decisions. That’s a lot to absorb, as many of us may remember all too well!  Among the most commonly cited student stressors are: relationships and loneliness, competitive academic and social pressure, time management/workload/balance, career/major choice, finances, poor eating/sleeping habits, roommate incompatibility, and handling newfound freedom responsibly. Whew!

Contributors

Obviously, each individual situation is unique, and preparing students for success in this major transition is no easy feat. That said, we believe the following are some of the main causes of college unreadiness and student struggles:

  1. Helicoptering and performance parenting: many of today’s parenting methods, often well intended, are producing students who are ill equipped for adulthood and the performance pressures imposed by their parents.
  2. “College for all” mentality: in recent decades, college has been loudly messaged as the ticket to success. Many students would have been better served choosing a different path.
  3. Inadequate commitment to independent living preparation and soft skill development in high schools: schools vary widely in course offerings involving independent living, college/career preparation, leadership, and soft skills (e.g., resilience). In most cases, these valuable courses, if offered at all, are considered electives. Further, there isn’t formal accountability for success after
  4. Insufficient college onboarding programs: arriving on a college campus can be a “deer in the headlights” experience! First year students could benefit from stronger student transition management programs, including how to handle the most common challenges and “derailers.”
  5. Extended period of adolescence: research is showing that the adolescent stage is lasting longer than before. This suggests that today’s college entrant, on average, may be less mature than in year’s past.
  6. Susceptible age: the years from 18-22 often reveal genetic predispositions to mental health issues. Further, at this time of major decisions and transitioning, the adolescent brain is still undergoing significant development. This is a massive amount of change to endure in a short period.

 

We all have a stake in improving this situation. Next week, I’ll share some parenting strategies to help prepare your teens for a successful college experience.

1”Top Reasons Students Seek College Counseling Centers,” Matters of the Mind, http://www.themillennialminds.com

Will We Ever Let Them Go: Part Three

Our nation’s colleges and universities have a powerful, two-fold influence on preparing young adults for life success. On one hand, they play a role as receiver of our high school graduates. On the other hand, after four plus years of educational effort, they serve as senders of their graduates to employers, communities, and independent life. They’re rather like the third leg of the relay race from parents to schools to colleges to employers.

The implications of this positioning are profound. College educators, via their admissions criteria, have an enormous influence on the high school agenda, especially in the area of course requirements. They are the proverbial tail wagging the dog when it comes to high school academic programs. Frankly, I believe this is an undue, and not always beneficial, influence.  Academicians, who often lack work experience outside of the classroom, are setting the agenda. Based on their actions, they seem to undervalue practical leadership/life skills training (e.g., personal finance) that is so relevant to students. Otherwise you’d see these courses reflected in their admission requirements! Not surprisingly, high schools design their course menus to satisfy the demands of colleges. That’s an issue. I would argue, a big issue.

Secondly, college course offerings and their own graduation requirements are often lacking in practical life training. Rather, their first few years emphasize traditional academic subjects that are often redundant from high school, and irrelevant to life after college for many students. In other words, college course requirements appear disconnected from their role in preparing students for independent living. This is also a big issue.

Thirdly, colleges are often shortchanging students in the area of employability and job acquisition. Despite their massive investment, students are not always required to take career readiness and job search courses to help them achieve a positive return on their college experience. Today’s graduates are increasingly ill prepared to navigate today’s recruitment process. If colleges aren’t accountable for this training, who is?

Several of my recommendations to colleges echo what I shared in my thoughts for high schools. However, because of the unique positioning of our colleges in preparing young adults for real life, others are specifically directed toward them.

 

  1. Apply my points 1-3 and 5-7 from the secondary school educators’ recommendation list to your college/university institution. Unlike the high school setting, the next step for most college graduates is a well-suited career. Accordingly, this should have significant ramifications on college programs, rather than predominantly focusing on academics for academics’ sake. However, based on employer feedback, this is not generally the case. I encourage colleges to allow employers to command a voice on this topic to do a better job of representing the end users receiving your graduates. Invite them to share in your classrooms—to offer valuable perspectives outside of the academic bubble. Most importantly, solicit their views on what constitutes a well prepared graduate for life and reflect their perspectives in your program. Just as your views are influencing the secondary school agenda, so should employers be influencing yours.
  1. Focus more on leadership and life-relevant training and (comparatively) less on redundant core requirements that are often found in high school. While a broad-based educational foundation is important, far too much of the college experience (and dollar!) is devoted to courses that are simply not as relevant or practically beneficial to students. The opportunity cost is too great.
  2. Completely revisit the academic admissions requirements imposed on our high schools. Aside from a base of core academics, it would better serve all students to incorporate leadership and practical life training to a greater degree. (Does anyone really believe that a two-to-three-year foreign language requirement for high school students is more important to life than financial literacy?!? Yet, the former is usually required, and we’re silent on the latter.)
  3. Assume greater accountability for student career success. All colleges and universities should be required provide success measures of their graduates in landing a job (both within and outside of their major). This would not only be beneficial to families in the college search process, but it would also help students in selecting their major. (Wouldn’t it be helpful to know the percent of students who landed a job in each major?) Also, students should be required to take a comprehensive career-readiness course involving career exploration, qualification, marketing, and excelling. With the lack of jobs for youth and young adults, many are entering the workforce extremely green. All colleges should seek partnerships with area businesses to offer students real-world perspectives, internships, and recruitment for future jobs. The bottom line: colleges need to take more ownership in providing graduates with a significant return on their sizable investment.
  4. Dispense with the political correctness, safe spaces, trigger warnings, segregated dorms, and disrespectful guest speaker treatment/disinvitations. These efforts merely delay students’ ability to relate/communicate with others, resolve conflict, problem solve, handle adversity, and respectfully consider differing views and perspectives. Unfortunately, this heightened form of coddling has become routine on campuses, and it will only inhibit your students’ ability to navigate life. (Thank you Dr. John Edison, Dean of Students at the University of Chicago, for your example.)

I truly believe that if we all made a conscious and concerted effort to make some changes, we would see the next generation thrive. Isn’t that something we all want to see?

You can access parts one and two of this series here and here, or, you can read the full article in our resource center.

 

 

Will We Ever Let Them Go: Part Two

It’s not uncommon to hear negative generalizations about today’s young adults (AKA millennials). There’s a lot of blaming going around, but have we ever stopped to ask ourselves what our role might be? Or, what improvements we can make to their training? Today’s post is part two in our four-part series about equipping and fostering success in young people, with a special message to secondary school educators. If you missed our post for parents earlier in the week, you can find it here. Or, you can access the entire article at the bottom of this post.

Today’s secondary schools face enormous challenges in covering all the bases and setting students up for life success. In addition to their core education efforts, our teachers also deal with tremendous regulatory demands and increasingly fragmented families. As a former school board chair and educator, I honor their tireless investment in our younger generation.

Importantly, our secondary educators play a vital role in preparing their graduates for college, career, and life. So, it’s appropriate to consider their influence on the general state of our young adults. In doing so, I’ll approach it as an advocate for two key constituencies: the students themselves and the institutions receiving their graduates (most notably, colleges and employers).

Importantly, secondary students are not in a position to advocate for themselves, and they assume they are receiving the education and training they need for life. And, why not? Meanwhile, our colleges and employers assume their students will arrive prepared for college, career, and life. Again, why not?

However, it is clear from our weak college graduation statistics and the feedback from universities and employers, that these assumptions are often erroneous. Far too many students are dropping out and/or lacking the basic skills that employers are seeking. So, while many students are book smart, signs are they’re not always life smart. This is a predictable outcome when leadership development and practical training occupy a secondary role in our schools.  In too many cases, student training is neither holistic nor sustainable.

With all that in mind, I respectfully offer the following recommendations to secondary school educators who are serving our today’s students today and tomorrow’s collegians and employees:

  1. Develop and implement a comprehensive vision for a well-prepared graduate for life. My favorite Stephen Covey habit is “Begin with the end in mind.” Importantly, it applies just as much to organizations (like schools) as it does to people. However, in my years of speaking at schools and conferences, I have never witnessed more than 10% of the audience state that their school has defined a well-prepared graduate. Never. This is an urgent priority because it frames everything. What skills, character attributes, and knowledge do our graduates need to succeed in life? That our employers and universities desire? We must know this.
  2. Create the necessary pathways and programs to implement this vision for all This will likely involve new courses, reprioritization, and integration of concepts (e.g., leadership).
  3. Require leadership and life skills courses for all students. These courses, often under the purview of FCS and CTE (Family/Consumer Science and Career and Technical Education) are simply too important to be considered electives. In addition to leadership and character skill building, all students should receive practical education in post-secondary preparation, career readiness, communication and relationship building, financial management, citizenship, manners, and self awareness. We can no longer assume that our students are learning these vital skills at home. (In too many cases they are not!) This will likely involve some reprioritization of other courses to make room for these essential topics. The keywords are “holistic,” “relevant,” and “sustainable.”
  4. Dispense with the “college or bust” mentality. The significant first-year college dropout rate reveals the unintended consequence of an overemphasis on college as the immediate next step. For many high school students, other options such as employment, vocational schools, community college, trade schools, a gap year, and military or service are better fitting options. These are not “second rate” choices.
  5. Prepare all students for a professional environment. Among the biggest complaints about today’s younger workers involve their casual written and oral communications and manners. Clearly, this is an adverse consequence of today’s tech-laden world. Communication is such a success driver in life, and, it deserves to be a greater priority in our schools. Also, courses in entrepreneurship, that would expose students to all aspects of managing an organization, would be beneficial. While the latest rage is STEM (or is it STEAM…?), it’s important to recognize that most jobs, even in those types of organizations, do NOT require advanced math and technical degrees. Let’s remember that as we develop our course menus and requirements.
  6. Promote leadership and character, and reward students accordingly. So often, academics and athletics command the greatest award attention in our schools. Ask most employers and they’ll gladly prefer a 3.5 GPA with great character to a 3.9 with little else. How many leadership and character awards are offered in your school?
  7. Cease with the grade inflation. This form of coddling proves to be a short-lived source of self esteem when students face the reality of competitive environments like college and the workplace. Let’s be honest, we’re doing them no favors.

 

Teachers, we are so grateful for you and your tireless efforts. Keep up the good work as we all work together and learn from each other, mastering our roles as “next generation equippers.”

 

Next week we will address this topic with college/university educators, as well as employers. If you’re interested in gaining access to all four parts of the article, you can find it here.

Will We Ever Let Them Go: Part One

Like most of you, I hate stereotypes and generalizations. They’re unfair and usually do more harm than good. It’s why I’m not a fan of “bucketizing” people into this/that gender/age/ethnicity/economic/religious/political category. To me, the main “fruit” of these efforts is disunity.

But, at the risk of not taking my own advice, I’d like to weigh in on the conversation about a group that is perhaps more stereotyped than any these days. . . Millennials. Having raised two of our own and as an author/publisher/mentor/educator devoted to training up our next generation, I feel a special bond toward them. But, judging by what I read and hear, it’s as though their foreheads are etched with a “scarlet M.”

You’ve likely heard their negative labels: entitled, lazy, fragile, impatient, narcissistic, distractible, relationally challenged, needful, and the like. Hopefully, you’ve also heard the positive: passionate, creative, connected, entrepreneurial, idealistic, and globally minded. (As a product of the Sixties and Seventies, it makes me wonder what was said about us!)

But, here’s the deal: IF some of the negative stereotypes of Millennials have some merit, I don’t believe it’s only (or even primarily) because of them. Much of that responsibility lies with us—the generation that has parented and trained them. By all accounts, we are not equipping them as fully as we should—not parents, not schools, and in some cases, not employers. We’re also struggling to let go. Big time!

Too often, instead of releasing eagles to soar with confidence, we’re releasing young adults that we continue to control, coddle, or inadequately equip. Generally speaking, we’re not providing the practical, relevant, holistic training they need to succeed in adult life, and it’s showing. I believe this is attributable to several factors: 1) parents and educators assuming the other is covering the training (e.g., finance, soft skills) so it falls through the cracks, 2) consequences of the breakdown of the American family, and 3) educators focusing more on training the mind than the whole person for adulthood. It’s no wonder that the stage of adolescence continues to grow. And grow.

That’s on us. And, we need to do better. For them.

So, for the rest of this blog series, I’ll be offering my recommendations—to parents, secondary school educators, colleges, and employers—to help set our younger generation up for real world success. Due to space limitations, it’s an incomplete view, so I’ll focus on my best ideas.

In this first post, I’ll address my thoughts to parents. After that, I’ll concentrate on secondary school and college educators, and finally, employers. We all have a stake in this game. I’m sure you can add to my ideas, and you might even disagree with some of my views. I welcome your contributions. That’s what makes it a conversation!

 

To Parents:

We all want our children to be happy and successful, but sometimes we get in their own way. In fact, discussions with those receiving our high school graduates (e.g., universities and employers) reveal the downside of helicoptering, performance parenting, excessive coddling, and absentee parenting: students struggling with self confidence and coping with the demands of adulthood. Consequently, parents are calling professors to complain about grades. Parents are calling employers to complain about their “kids” being overworked and underpaid. Parents are even coming to job interviews! Many parents are so invested in their children’s success that they won’t let go. Is it any wonder so many young adults are having difficulty growing up?

With that, here are some suggestions for raising our parenting bar and releasing a new generation of well-prepared and confident leaders:

  1. Adopt an empowering parenting vision and mindset: what if we replaced “raising children” with “raising future adults?” This mindshift can make a world of difference. In our book on this topic, Parenting for the Launch, we call it, “giving them wings, not strings” and “moving from driver seat to passenger seat.”
  2. Emphasize character and “soft skills” over performance. Success in career and life requires a solid leadership foundation made up of qualities like integrity, reliability, high standards, kindness, respect, other-centeredness, work ethic, humility, positivity, and manners. It also requires attributes like self control, resilience, interpersonal skill, decision-making, time management, and communication. These are sustainable leadership qualities. Where are we placing our emphasis?
  3. Invest in your relationship. It takes both quality and quantity time to build a relationship that endures. “I didn’t spend enough time with my children” is an all-too-common regret you never want to experience! Stay fully engaged.
  4. Surround them with positive influences and adult role models and mentors. Use every opportunity to introduce them to great people! These invaluable third party voices offer friendship, wisdom, and connections to help grow their network. It also builds communication skills and respect for adults.
  5. Help them build self awareness. In the teen and young adult years, it’s critical to understand one’s assets, nature, and passions. Parents can contribute valuable insights that instill vision, belief, hope, and a sense of value.
  6. Encourage them to stretch themselves and take risks, even if they may not succeed. Help them embrace new experiences and challenges. Regardless of the outcome, winning is in the journey. Build a “Go for it!” attitude..
  7. Limit their use of technology and impose tech-free zones during family times. Be highly attentive to the addictive tendencies of technology, especially if it starts to affect their relationships, communication, and productivity.  And, don’t let devices and TV serve as a “babysitter.”
  8. Be strategic about preventing some of the common stereotypes. That means promoting a strong work ethic (chores help!), instilling other centeredness (volunteering for the less fortunate), learning to accept constructive feedback, being able to build authentic relationships, developing their ability to problem solve and handle disappointments and conflict, and teaching them how to communicate professionally with adults.
  9. Resist the temptation to solve their problems and manage their performance. These are self confidence destroyers that hamper decision-making and can create co-dependence.

 

If you are the parent of a millennial—what steps have you taken to help make them more “real world ready?” Are there any tips or pointers you would add to this list?

Later this week, I will be addressing my recommendations to secondary educators (with two more parts in the series coming next week!). I’m excited to share this blog series with you and hope you’ll continue to read on and engage as we discuss our roles in equipping the next generation for success!

If you’re interested in accessing the entire article (how we as parents, high school teachers, college professors, and employers can help equip millennials for success) in one place, you can find it in our resource center here.