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A little rant about how to find work with any organization, including Porpoise Group or the one you start yourself:

University Grads Lack Direction

Spring at universities inevitably brings talk of life after graduation, but these conversations continue to lack a good measure of direction. While no one is expected to know and stick to their life calling the day they graduate, the story of employment is not being adequately challenged in the face of the social and environmental problems we are finding ourselves grappling with together.

It has now become common knowledge in Canada to not expect steady, stable work upon completion of a university degree, aside from grads of a handful of vocational programs. Yet some of the best received proposals for linking young people with work, like George Takach’s idea of treating higher education degrees like financial securities, are backward-looking, return-on-investment arguments with dubious predictive power. When economic shifts occur, like if the “bitumen bubble” Alberta Premier Alison Redford has been referring to is real and at risk of bursting, what work brings what pay will not be stable. More fundamentally, this intuitive investment approach is firmly prescriptive in telling a story that young people simply plug into our economic infrastructure and that they have no agency in how it operates. Employment statistics by skill-set should be made public and referred to. But treating them as scripture is disempowering and undermines the role of education; people navigating through and leaving our universities should be using their critical thinking muscles to find work that will be needed in the future they see unfolding, not the past they are watching fade away.

If some thinkers and major investors are right, we are seeing a shift what human activities are being valued and this has implications for our economic future. Initiatives like the Giving Pledge, pioneered by Warren Buffett and Bill & Melinda Gates to give away the majority of their wealth, are desperately looking for people with clear, substantiated, and compelling direction for what society needs. Outside of philanthropy, investment guru Jeremy Grantham, chief strategist of Boston-based GMO investment group, is foreseeing investment in low-carbon energies with the impending arrival of carbon tax systems, and better opportunities in better managing ecosystem services like forests. At a recent panel discussion of the Social Economy Initiative at McGill University, former Prime Minister Paul Martin and McGill professor Henry Mintzberg spoke of how we have been overvaluing business and undervaluing social enterprise, or the “plural” sector, to the detriment of our society. Mintzberg spoke of how we are starting to see citizens taking the future into their own hands, using their networks, and putting the pieces of a balanced society together. While business will continue to play an important role, activities like social impact investing, which is even being touted by the Conservative government as a solution to social problems like recidivism and education delivery, will become more prominent. The CAPE (Captial for Aboriginal Prosperity and Entrepreneurship) Fund, championed by Paul Martin among others, is hoped to be a tool designed to create this citizenry that is empowered to tackle societal issues.

What this all means to those dealing with life after graduation is that there are opportunities to do work that is needed to build the resilient society where people and the planet can flourish. Creating and seeking out this work wherever it is needed is the spirit of intra- and entrepreneurialism. It is about seeking out problems then designing and acting on approaches to solving them, be it from inside or outside of formal organizations. Thankfully, we need much more than ideas people to contribute to this body of work and potentially make a living doing it. Much has been written on the different roles one can fill to do meaningful work, like in social activists Eli Malinksy and Dev Aujla’s “5 Ways To Make Money And Do Good”. Anyone can get involved, including those earning a living making widgets or lattes at other hours of the day.

Many soon-to-be-graduating students have yet to have this intra- and entrepreneurial outlook become their starting point when looking for work to do. Being inquisitive to figure out how to support efforts and being persistent in helping solve problems is increasingly becoming the way to find pieces of useful work to do. Two prominent factors among many that work against holding this perspective are introversion and student debt. Introverts, those who generally have more trouble putting themselves out there and continually interacting with different people, may find it difficult to discover what is going on in communities and therefore in determining how they can support the important work happening there, though this is certainly not insurmountable. The very real divide between those carrying debt out of university and those not can be seen in their tolerance for risk. Volunteerism, an activity that can often lead to meeting new people and finding meaningful employment, and artistic self-reflection, which can bring joy and ideas and further personal development, are further out of the question for those saddled with debt, desperate for steady work that may or may not match their morals.

It is not solely the responsibility of recent grads to make this happen. Universities, which often help orient people well to a campus setting, struggle in transitioning people out to take initiative in their communities. The answer is broader than forging stronger corporate ties to assemble productive employees. As public institutions, universities are well placed to collaborate also with government, social enterprises and other universities to develop effective transitions that give grads the skills and confidence to be empowered citizens. Innovative outro programs will become increasingly important as many large organizations cut back on employee training programs and the void between classrooms and work environments continues to widen.

Questions around the role of universities in educating young people will continue in the sort-term, full of opinion and suggestion. Students, who get to live slightly removed from the sensationalist cycles of the media while they hone their critical thinking skills for a few years, should realize that while fads will come and go, it is the monumental amount of needed work to address our collective problems which will become increasingly valued. And it doesn’t need to start as a full-time job.


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