Beyond Working For The Man

I remember being at a university Open Day once and walking past some girls, obviously in their final year of high school, trying to decide what course they should enroll in at uni. I couldn’t help overhearing their conversation about how they planned to choose… one was considering study based on the likelihood of getting a job from it, and her friend was considering her future choices based on which career paid the most. While I suppose these are both somewhat relevant factors, the idea that young people would be making choices about their life direction based on which had the shorter job queue or which helped them buy their first car quicker made me a little sad.

I often think that the conventional wisdom we give kids amounts to “go to school, get a good education, get a good job and work real hard”, and it’s something that has always bothered me. As adults, parents, and especially educators, we talk a lot to our older kids about the idea of “getting a job”, and we prepare kids really well to be employees. We teach them at school how to write a job application letter, and how to prepare for an interview, and about the expectations that employers might have of them. We tell them to be careful about what information they put online about themselves because it may one day be Googled by a potential employer. We build a paradigm in kids’ heads that we are preparing them to be outstanding employees. And whether we talk to our kids about having a job, or a career, or a vocation, so often it’s still couched in the general idea that they will be working for someone else, operating on someone else’s goals and priorities, relying on a paycheck from someone else. In most schools we manage to build “good employee” mentality really well.

What I think we don’t do so well it to build entrepreneurial thinking. We often don’t do a terribly good job of preparing kids to follow their dreams in any sort of independent, entrepreneurial way. We focus so heavily on teaching them to be good employees that we almost never teach them to be business owners. We teach them how to write a resumé, but not a business plan. We teach them how to sit for an interview but not how to create a start-up. I’ve never heard a careers adviser tell a kid to start their own company. Despite the fact that we educators talk a lot about developing “independent thinkers with a love of life long learning”, it’s quite amazing how well we train them to be compliant rule-followers that are good at fitting in to the expectations of the system.

For many students, the $20,000 it costs them to get a undergraduate degree would be better spent as startup capital in a venture that allowed them to follow their passions. But most of them never even consider that option… we do a pretty good job of educating that out of them.

I’d love to see kids leaving school with a greater understanding of the real options that lie before them and more of a sense that they should be following their dreams and their passions, and that doing that might not always mean further study or going to work for “the man”.

PS: This post started out as a comment on a blog that my principal recently started writing. Pop over and take a look at the post that triggered this one at http://paulburgis.com/?p=54.  I thought I’d repost my comment here, but do check out Paul’s original thread and help create some traffic over there. Ta!

Image credit: http://www.ineedmotivation.com/blog/2007/08/what-motivates-an-entrepreneur/

CC BY-SA 4.0 Beyond Working For The Man by Chris Betcher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

4 Replies to “Beyond Working For The Man”

  1. Interesting post Chris.

    I think entrepreneurs breed entrepreneurs, at least as far as I’ve observed. As most of us hail from non-entrepreneurial families, many of us do not have the mindset, “habits”, attributes, and role-models of entrepreneurs – can be quite a different work ethic, too. And it does require a different mindset, particularly when you consider the odds are against you (something like most businesses fold within 5 years??) which is probably why passion is important. Apropos, I think same goes with a lot of careers so we hear of a line of doctors, lawyers, architects, engineers, teachers, politicians, etc.

    Not an excuse, for sure, and there are many who break the mould (so-to-speak). As a parent I know, deep down, that if my daughters say they want to set up a business, I will do my best to support them – including helping them work through a business plan. None of their closest friends are from families with businesses so they probably don’t have peer-talk along business lines either.

    I wonder if this is deeper than can be “fixed” by schools and educators. I wonder how society can be different if more of us are entrepreneurial. I wonder if the shifts in education as you mentioned above will eventually spill over transforming the industrial focus. Is there a value system at play here?

    So, in the end, I’ve got questions rather than answers. sorry about that.

  2. Hi Chris – Yes an interesting and thought provoking post. I agree that we do teach our students to be ‘good employee’s”. As a business teacher teaching Year 11 and 12 students about business planning, operations management and marketing, the vast majority of the students choose business ideas that are beyond their experience eg starting up an international airline.

    Like Malyn said the odds are against anyone, let alone a 18 year old. I have taught business for over 15 years at high school level and have always tried to get my students to get into the mindset that entrepreneurs are not your Richard Bransons and Clive Palmers (yes they are but..) but the people like their mum’s and dad’s, uncle’s and aunts who have their own business or sell items on ebay, gumtree etc.

    My father said money can be made anywhere – there is even money in one’s own waste products but do we go ahead and start up our own business?. But as Malyn said most of us come from non entreprenuerial backgrounds and do not have the mindset. And when we have teachers teaching entrereneurship who have only been through the educational system then onto uni and then into teaching a class it becomes a theory lesson that goes through the motion much the same way how ICT has been taught over the past 15 years which is why the UK system is overhauling theirs.

    When you teach in a school that has generational unemployment then your task gets a lot harder. If our VET programs do not go through the procedure for our school based apprentices to start up their own business then who does? Many schools are worried about students starting up real businesses as part of their studies due to some very valid reasons like insurance etc. But starting up a business is real – just like learning to drive.

  3. After spending time researching whether I could play a role in developing the ‘silicon nation’ I am convinced that the true opportunity lays within our kids.
    “We are creating an entrepreneurial environment to foster and develop in our youth and to facilitate the un-tapping of one of our greatest resources, our kids and their imaginations..” How? Throught apps that allows students to input their app ideas and returning recognition back to them as iPads to their schools.

That's all well and good, but what do YOU think?