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leadership lab

Peter Caven is managing director of Launched, a career advisory service for young professionals.

You made a significant investment in your children's education, ensured that they attended good schools, helped them with countless projects and assignments, met with dozens of teachers, participated in school events, supported them emotionally and likely contributed significantly to the $60,000 cost of a four-year university program. If they attended an independent high school, you can add another $100,000 to your investment.

And after all that, your son or daughter is unemployed or one of the 56 per cent of Canadian university graduates younger than 24 who is underemployed – working in jobs that don't require a university degree.

They, and you, are frustrated and discouraged by their inability to launch their career. Their self-esteem has taken a nose-dive, and they have fallen into a downward spiral; their lack of success has discouraged them from trying. If they do get a job interview, their lack of self-confidence knocks them out of contention. They don't know where to turn or what to do. They have taken to sleeping until noon and partying too hard.

You want to get involved. You are their parent, it's your job, and you've been successful in helping them in the past. Despite the urge, beyond providing emotional support, don't do it.

Here's why:

  • Your involvement will likely contribute to your child’s angst.
  • Your child will not take your advice, no matter how good it is; it is a twenty-something’s mandate to ignore their parents’ suggestions.
  • Your involvement will likely be resented and become a source of conflict that will spill over to other aspects of your relationship.
  • Your relationship with your spouse could suffer. Conflicts can arise over career strategies and tactics, financial support and how this situation came about.
  • You are not an appropriate career counsellor – therapists don’t treat their own children – as your expectations may be part of the problem.
  • Your purview is likely too narrow. In most cases, your knowledge of options available to them is restricted by your experience. You may be knowledgeable about the sector or industry in which you work but not much beyond it. There are brand new sectors such as artificial intelligence that didn’t exist just a few years ago.
  • You don’t have the skills and knowledge. What worked for you when you started your career no longer applies. It’s an entirely different ball game; the competition is intense, and the rules have changed.

There are things you can do:

  • Be supportive. It is a challenging job market. In 1980, there were 65 degree-granting universities in Canada; there are now 246. Almost 300,000 university graduates enter the Canadian job market every year; in 1980, the number was 100,000. The growth in the Canadian economy since 1980 has been less than half the growth in the number of university graduates.
  • Offer advice when asked but don’t dictate; you aren’t a career counsellor so don’t try to come across as an expert.
  • Don’t be an enabler. You shouldn’t expect them to put their shoulder to the wheel to launch their career if financial and other support is unending.

Executives, educators and human resources experts contribute to the ongoing Leadership Lab series.

Karl Moore sits down with Michele Rigolizzo from the Harvard Business School

Special to Globe and Mail Update