Are College Graduates Ready for the Real World?

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We have spent too much time protecting and not enough time preparing our children.

This is the question nearly every employer I know is asking. The short answer — is yes and no.

These recent college grads are savvy and confident. They understand new technology better than their boss, and have a desire to interface with others and make a difference.

Apart from these qualities — not so much. I speak to 50,000 students a year and while I believe in them, I am deeply concerned for their transition from backpack-to-briefcase. USA Today ran an article a few years back on the subject. To summarize the results of their research — school prepares students for more school, not the real world. Middle school prepares kids for high school; high school for college and college for grad school. Further, while parents are perhaps more engaged with their kids than a generation ago, parenting styles are damaging the students and stunting their growth. Helicopter parents who hover over their kids; karaoke parents who want to be like their kids; dry cleaner parents who want to drop their kids off at a school, soccer team or youth group so a “professional” can do their parenting for them… leave kids ill-equipped to negotiate the demands of life without mom and dad. Several college students have said to me in a focus group: “My mom is like my agent.” From my perspective, we’ve spent too much time protecting and not enough time preparing these kids.

I just finished a book called, Generation iY: Our Last Chance to Save Their Future. In it, I outline several causes for this “unpreparedness” problem. In addition to schools and parenting styles, I think prescription drugs, the video game pandemic, technology that allows them to remain “screenagers,” and the chemicals we put in plastics (like BPA) have all played a role in the perfect storm that has postponed their maturation. They reside in a virtual “Neverland” where they refuse to grow up. And why wouldn’t they? The adult world we beckon them to enter has never been more complex. The adolescent world they are currently enjoying has never been more pleasurable. Who would want to leave it? The MacArthur Foundation suggests that the transition from adolescence to adulthood is now age 34.

My take on the issue is this. Just like muscles atrophy when they are in a cast and go unused for six weeks, these adolescents have atrophied emotional, relational and intellectual muscles that have gone unused due to the iWorld we’ve created for them. (This is why I call the students born since 1990: Generation iY.) Their greatest needs are emotional intelligence, character development and leadership perspective. Adults must come up with new ways to help them develop those muscles.

I don’t blame the students for this predicament. Our systems are broken. We’ve left kids overwhelmed, over-connected, over-protected, and over-served. But — we did it to them. We created the world they are living in, and we must now become the mentors they need to help them transition into life after school.

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