STATE OF MIND – ‘Buddy, Can You Spare a Job?’

‘Buddy, Can You Spare a Job?’ is a three part series focused on the state of the job market for young people, particularly college students, given today’s political and economic pressures. Joining Krishna C. Nadella for the discussion are Sarah Lovenheim and Dr. Christian M. M. Brady.

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Sarah Lovenheim is the Communications Director for Young Invincibles, a national non-profit representing the educational and economic interests of 18-34 year olds. Prior to her current role, she served as an aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Dr. Brady is the Dean of the Schreyer Honors College and an Associate Professor at Penn State University. He has two advanced degrees from Oxford University.

Episode 1 – ‘Student Employment: Internships and Jobs’, focuses on the relevant challenges college students face in obtaining the internships and mentorships needed to secure full-time employment. Since the 2008 financial crisis, nation-wide employment has slowly reached the levels seen during the early-to-mid 2000s. However, unemployment for Millennials (those roughly between the ages of 18-34) is much higher than today’s national average of 5.8%.

Furthermore, unemployment for Blacks and Latinos between the ages of 18-34 is 8% and 15.8%, respectively. The ripple effects of the 2008 financial crisis have made it harder for young people to find work and their access to affordable higher education has diminished. This speaks volumes to the challenges that young people face in today’s job market and raises some serious questions:

  • Is the United States’ educational system doing enough to support economically challenged individuals by providing pathways through which they can acquire the skills required to become competitive in today’s job market?
  • Is there enough investment in education at both the state and federal levels? How can students acquire the “hard” technical and trade skills as well as the “soft” interpersonal, communication and teamwork skills that employers are looking for?

The answer to these questions requires insight from many perspectives in order to make progress in solving these problems.

Ms. Lovenheim points to the disparities in access that minorities face in higher education, which in turn translates to their diminished competitiveness in the job market. Blacks and Latinos have typically found it more difficult to find work once they graduate. The ripple effect from the 2008 economic downturn has made this even more challenging.

Less than 10% of state annual budgets are being spent on higher education. Not surprisingly, minorities from economically burdened communities suffer the most. Secondary education is also generally poorer in economically underserved areas, leading to lower tests scores and fewer high school graduates than in economically advanced areas.

There is a lack of mentoring, which leads to a low awareness among high school students about employment further down the road with the consequence that they do not always realize how to leverage their education. Young people, particularly those who are financially challenged, should be given opportunities to acquire professional skills and be taught to be open to new subjects and opportunities as early as possible. Doing so will provide additional avenues for them to identify their interests more rationally and also gain the critical thinking and problem solving skills required to tackle today’s complex and challenging social and economic problems.

As undergraduates, students can obtain these skills if they are ably mentored and by using internship opportunities to bolster their resumes, collaborate with like-minded peers and seek advice from professionals. Students must assume the responsibility to actively seek experiential learning opportunities that cater to their curiosities and also take on challenges that will make them better rounded individuals.

Dr. Brady mentions the diminished value of vocational training largely because in order to be competitive for full time employment today, a Bachelor’s degree is required. College is now less of a place where young people come to “learn how to learn” and more of a place to acquire a certain skill-set or trade. As a consequence, young people are learning skills in classrooms that were once taught in apprenticeship and vocational programs. Hence, some students struggle to find the right balance between soft and hard skills and employers across the board continue to be challenged as they seek the talent that best suits their company. Savvy students must therefore seek opportunities outside the classroom since those with more experiential learning will likely be more competitive in the job market.

These talking points lead us into Episode 2 – ‘Degree Selection’, which focuses on the pressures young people feel when choosing majors. The episode begs the question: what curriculums and academic strategies provide students with the best opportunity to be job-ready following college graduation?

As Dr. Brady points out, the universities that offer experiential learning through research fellowships and partnerships with industry professionals are doing the most to produce job-ready graduates. Students are able to study raw material in the classroom, and apply those concepts while working with a team and gaining soft skills. The disciplines that provide these opportunities, such as engineering, medicine, finance, etc. equip young people to tackle real world problems and also provides them with a pathway to future economic stability.

Students’ decisions of majors are also in many cases an economic decision. Young people from low-income households are more likely to choose majors that offer post-graduate job opportunities in Physics and Math, rather than pursuing a liberal arts education.

In order to find out the skills needed to operate and be successful in certain fields, and the degree that would be the best fit, a young scholar should feel encouraged to reach out to alumni. Alumni can provide insights on career paths that their major offered, as well as information about the student experience that one has while working toward a particular degree. It is very important that students make informed decisions not only about what to study but where to study it.

Episode 3 – ‘Millennials: Boomeranging and Underemployment’, wraps up the discussion on the state of employment for Millenials. The Boomerang Generation refers to Millenials who return, or “boomerang” to live with their parents after some time living on their own. This is being seen more and more as the effects of the 2008 economic crisis still weigh on households.   Underemployment has been another trend since the 2008 financial crisis that has forced young people to take on jobs that require lower skills than they have, thus moving them to a job where they make less money than their qualifications should lead to.

Unfortunately, the Millennial Generation is facing economic barriers to employment that in some cases have not been as severe since the 1920s. One in every four Millennial today work in a part-time job. This has a severe economic impact on a person’s professional career since it becomes more and more difficult to make the appropriate career advancements later on in life.

The Millennial Generation is unique and creative. We are exposed to more technology and innovation than any generation before us and we are developing socially and intellectually during an age that encourages entrepreneurship and the development of new ideas as never before. We must face up to the economic barriers that prevent our success and work even harder to make ourselves competitive in today’s economy.

If young people take that approach, as the economy gets better, the job market will arguably be filled with more innovative, hard working and creative young people than ever seen before.

View all three episodes below!

Stay tuned for further discussions on the economic and political challenges young people face today.  Until then, “What is your STATE OF MIND?”

STATE OF MIND with Krishna C. Nadella

Every Life Is A Book…Make Yours A Bestseller!


Writer: Krishan Puri

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