Some things never change. As the holiday season pushes into full swing, family members descend into the homes of their relatives and barrage their kids with the standard question: 'What do you want to do with your life?' I'm not sure why this was ever considered a reasonable inquiry, considering many adults don't know what they want to do at their age, let alone when they were a teenager.
The question of 'what do you do in your spare time' is just as pointless; what kid is going to say 'extra math' when what they really want to do is spend hours playing Assassin's Creed Unity?
Underlying all these questions is the good-hearted attempt to prophesize a child's future career prospects. This notion is troublesome since the whole concept of work is in a state of disruption.
It's no secret young people are already struggling with employment. When October's U.S. unemployment data was released, it showed that 37 per cent of young Americans, aged 16 to 24 were neither employed nor unemployed, meaning they aren't working but have been out of the work force for too long to be considered unemployed. That trend continued in November.
The numbers aren't as stark in Canada. In October, youth unemployment fell almost 1 per cent to 12.6 per cent, mainly because those aged 15 to 24 did not want to work or were unavailable to work. That rate edged up to 13 per cent in November.
A Pew Research report suggested that while this young and unemployed cohort may have grown disillusioned with trying to find work, there may be another trend at play: teens and young adults don't seem as interested in entering the work force as they use to be. The number of young people who said they just didn't want to enter the work force has grown by 10 percentage points since 2000. Many have decided to stay at school rather than battle it out in a challenging job environment. Is this the chicken or the egg dilemma?
Either way, this phenomenon seemed to be on the mind of Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz who recently entreated younger, would-be workers to get out of their parents' basements and start volunteering, estimating that about 200,000 youth want to work or work more than they currently do.
But volunteering may not be a panacea to the dearth of jobs and our inability to properly prepare students for the future of work, where a degree with a high GPA alone won't do the trick, according to Don Philabaum, author of Change It! Create a Career Centered College Culture.
"Prior to 2008, one could graduate and pretty effortlessly get into the work force. It may not have been a job that was relevant to the career or major the student wanted – but they got a job. Today with 1.72 million new graduates each year [in the U.S.] all graduating within a two-month period of time into an economy that produces on average approximately 200,000 new jobs, it's easy to do the math and see that it will take a long time to absorb those new graduates into the work force," said Mr. Philabaum.
This is why the average grad in the U.S. will take at least eight months to find a job – and that's any job, not necessarily one relevant to their career or the focus of their studies. He also cites a McKinsey report that shows that nearly half of graduates are in jobs that don't require a degree, and about a third believe their education didn't prepare them for work.
Mr. Philabaum, whose firm TalentMarks works with alumni associations to create a more career-centric college culture, laments the lack of support students get to transition from institutes of higher education to the work force. He cites surveys showing that the majority of incoming freshman at college are there to get a job yet sees the average career centre budget being cut or frozen. The majority of graduating students, he explained, will never visit their institution's career centre.
"Clearly in a marketplace where you have to build your brand, learn to use LinkedIn, network, build a résumé and essentially learn how to use job boards, it's clear that nearly every grad who walks across the stage at graduation day is clueless on how to look for a job," asserted Mr. Philabaum. He argues that the culture on campus needs to change, requiring students to network with alumni and to encourage alumni to help graduates transition into their first internships.
While lots of criticism has been levelled at academic institutions not keeping pace with the skills required in today's work force and preparing students for success, perhaps there is another conversation that needs to take place, and this one at home. Instead of asking kids what they want to do, how about focusing on what issues they want to solve? What inspires them to get out of bed? How do they build up their skills, network and brand so they can walk into new roles they want once they finish a degree?
So kids, when your annoying aunt or uncle barrages you with inquiries about your future, turn the tables on them and ask them how they plan to help you get your feet off the couch and your foot in the door of your career.
Leah Eichler is founder and CEO of r/ally, a mobile collaboration platform for enterprises. Twitter: @LeahEichler