The title seems obvious but there may be more to it than first appears.  Let’s start by reviewing what Tom Friedman, writing in the N.Y. Times, recently said on this subject and then we’ll follow with some of my personal experiences.

Here’s Friedman’s take:

“What are the things that happen at a college or technical school that, more than anything else, produce `engaged’ employees on a fulfilling career track?  According to Brandon Busteed, the executive director of Gallup’s education division, two things stand out.  `Successful students had one or more teachers who were mentors and took a real interest in their aspirations, and they had an internship related to what they were learning in school.’

“`We think it’s a big deal where we go to school,’ Busteed explained, `but we found no difference in terms of type of institution you went to—public, private, selective or not—in long-term outcomes.  How you got your college education mattered most.’

“Graduates who told Gallup that they had a professor(s) ‘who cared about them as a person—or had a mentor who encouraged their goals and dreams and/or had an internship where they applied what they were learning—were twice as likely to be engaged with their work and thriving in their overall well-being,’ Busteed said.

“Alas, though, only 22 percent of college grads surveyed said they had such a mentor and 29 percent had an internship where they applied what they were learning.  So less than a third were exposed to the things that mattered most.

“Busteed said that 96 percent of the college provosts Gallup surveyed believed their schools were successful preparing young people for the workplace.  `When you ask recent college grads in the work force whether they felt prepared, only 14 percent say yes,’ he added.  And then when you ask business leaders whether they’re getting enough college grads with the skills they need, ‘only 11 percent strongly agree.’  Concluded Busteed:  `This is not just a skills gap.  It is an understanding gap.’

“Some help may be on the way from Washington.  Last year, President Obama asked V.P. Joe Biden to oversee an overhaul of the government’s education-to-work programs after hearing from one too many employers across the country that, as one White House official put it, ‘they were having trouble hiring workers for some of their fastest-growing jobs,’ such as operating sophisticated machine tools or software testing and debugging.

“`As they dove into the problem,’ said Byron Auguste, a White House deputy national economic adviser, `they found that the success stories shared a lot of the same attributes that Gallup found.  In successful programs,’ said Auguste, `students got as much applied, hands-on experience as possible, whether in a classroom or on a job site.  Schools, colleges and training centers had close partnerships with regional employers, industry groups and skilled trade unions to stay up to date on job-relevant skills.’

“The key now is to scale those insights.  The Labor Department has awarded $1.5 billion in the last three years to more than 700 community colleges to develop employer-validated training programs for new careers like natural gas field word and cybersecurity.  Another $500 million is set to be awarded as part of a kind of race-to-the-top for whoever can build the best community college-industry group partnership anywhere in the country where new industries are finding gaps in the kind of workers they need.

“Employers used to take generalists and train them into specialists for their industry; but fewer employers want to do that today or can afford to in a globally competitive economy, especially when they fear they’ll train someone who will then leave for a competitor.  So everyone wants employees out of college or technical schools who are ready to plug in and play immediately.  That’s why government has a role in fostering more and more employer-educator partnerships—this is the new, new thing—which businesses, small and large, can benefit from, as well as all would-be employees.”

I don’t disagree with Tom Friedman’s thesis but I think there’s an alternative to having a mentor and/or an internship during your school years which, in my opinion, may give you a better head start.  The alternative is called “work.”

In my school years, starting at about age 12, I had the following jobs:  delivery on my bike for a butcher shop and for annual Mah Jong cards, busboy, dishwasher, waiter, time clock checker, house steward, subway station ad salesman and Christmas card delivery man.

I had good bosses and bad bosses, and I learned from both as well as about myself.

Later on, while riding the career train, I had three mentors which I described in a previous blog (11/20/13).

I firmly believe mentors, internships and especially work can all contribute to the essentials of building a successful career and/or job tenure.


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