I had the luck of having a discussion with Dr. Zara Larsen of the Larsen Group, a group dedicated to giving advice to others on how to change themselves in order to better establish themselves in the workforce. In the conversation about a graduating mechanical engineer we were told that even with a Bachelors in mechanical engineering from the world’s top 8 engineering institution, one would still need to go on to pick up a Master’s degree in the field to even consider a position in the 6 figure range. Now while I do not proclaim that the Larsen Group has any more authoritative a position in that field than any other group, the point still remains that we are constantly being told that the 4 years of education and debt may simply not be enough to secure a job in the work force.
College education was the driving force for everything that my Generation has done, as we are told over and over again that the single judgmental factor which we would be held to is whether or not we were able to attend and graduate from some form of higher education. All throughout High School we are told again and again that our most important goal is to maintain sufficient grades to allow us to attend the college of our choice. We have sacrificed any and all trade skill positions in favor of some form of higher education.
Mike Rowe, who is perhaps most well known for his position as the host of the Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs”, recently gave a speech at the TED talks on how we have changed our view points on the nature of manual labor. The talk goes on to discuss how the United States has demonized the working positions that are held by Americans, how it is that we have made the ditch digger, the farm hand, etc. elements of our society that are seen as unwanted and unclean. The position is interesting in that it dips into the mentality that my generation has been fed about how our ultimate goal should be to attain a position in some office working as what quintessentially amounts to a cubicle slave.
The side effect of this mentality is clear and even has some pretty damning physical evidence. In 2007, an eight lane bridge along the I-35W route in Minnesota collapsed killing 13 and injuring 145. August 2003, the entire North East coast of the United States suffers from a massive power outage, leaving 45 million without power. These events are incredibly clear signs that the US infrastructure, which was for the most part established in the mid 50′s as part of the military and social initiative to better prepare ourselves for possible Soviet invasions, is finally starting to show its age. We have continued to ignore some of the most critical elements of the nations infrastructure in part due to a complete lack of work force capable of performing the needed duties.
The mounting concern is now that the generation which will need to deal with these issues simply is not trained to deal with them. Our High Schools were stripped of shop class.
So, here we have a group generation of individuals who have tried to do well in school, get good grades, stay out of trouble, and most important of all make their way to the college system after being processed by public education. They have been stripped of most of their critical and analytical thinking abilities in favor of rote memorization and skills which will allow them to pass the required test in order to reach their goal of college. This is further reinforced at the college level where it has become apparent to the educational facilities that more and more the people attending, short of a state mandate, are required to be there.
In recent years, post secondary educational facilities have begun to realize that they can make use of this requirement and use it for their own financial gain.
A recent documentary even went into the nature of for profit colleges which have begun to take advantage of not only members of my generation, but those of generation X which are now desperate to attempt to compete with the flow of my generation into the workforce. These Universities are without a doubt making use of not only the ease of access that the internet provides, but also the unrelenting need for a degree in the modern business world.
Perhaps what makes this worse is how easy it is to put yourself in debt in order to attend these colleges. For attending Purdue University for 3 Years for a Bachelors Degree in Computer and Information Technology [projected entry salary 40k+], as an out of state student with no grants or scholarships I will owe the University approximately $120,000.00. For my part in signing and agreeing to that debt I was required to take a 10 minute 5 question quiz [which I could repeat], asking me if I understood how much the loan was for and that 3 to 6 months after my graduation I would be expected to begin payment on those loans.
We were never taught personal finance as a class at any level of my education. Everything I understand about the banking industry or the mechanics involved with loans and money lending is based on information I have gathered on my own time or learned because my mother is an employee for a local credit union. As a result, in full honesty, I am terribly unaware of exactly the consequences or the nature of the loan I have agreed to pay. If I do not secure a paying job within 3 to 6 months of my Graduation, that student loan debt will quickly be turned into a bill that I will not be capable of paying. The implications that this reality holds are staggering and upsetting, magnified more so when one realizes that a Federal student loan is one of the only loans which can not be cleared by chapter 11 bankruptcy.
So, you have all of these factors that are weighing in and crushing an entire Generation. The question of course becomes “What are you going to do about it”. Now, we are a generation that has been accused of being lazy and cynical [and perhaps with good reason on our parts for being so]. What you have to ask yourself is how do we change this? How can we escape this “collapse”?
In truth, I doubt very much if we actually can, it’s that whole being cynical thing that comes with the generation. The situation put against us is not one that will be easy to navigate or deal with in a timely manner. I think the answer lies in using what makes our generation unique.
With massive global protest organized against the Church of Scientology by groups like anonymous, the Reddit Secret Santa program, or even the act to save a small kitten from an abusive home. There are instances across the internet on a daily basis of humanity trying its best to be trusting. Now obviously, I would be well within the bounds of ignorance to ignore the overwhelming number of cases which do not end so happily, but I think there is some manner of precedent being set in how my Generation is choosing to interact with the world.
The key to turning back the tide and undoing the damage that has been done is going to come from action. I don’t know how to do so, as at this point it is difficult to truly stir the masses, but if anything is going to be done you can almost hedge your bet that the medium will be the internet.
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