TrustNavigator Blog

In a world where companies are challenged in finding strong employee applicants, many employers cite younger applicants as lacking strong Life Skills. The generational comparison is usually connected to the cause blaming college preparation and "those devices".  Due to tuition inflation colleges in particular have become the "fall guy". The argument for what is paid in tuition there should be an expectation of college preparation ignores the historic and cultural value of college. Yes, college is coincidental with the maturing of a student's life skills.  But this is not the legacy role of academic institutions. Asking the scholar culture to teach personality skills is no different than asking a science professor to teach English.

Colleges were created for the aristocracy to teach academic skills to their children. It was an elite privilege. The Industrial age demanded more candidates with specialized skills and the post WWII era further expanded college populations as women entered the workforce. Throughout this century of college student demand growth, the academic mission remained very similar and course offerings broadened primarily along academic boundaries. Primarily in the last few decades, the curriculum expanded outside of specialized degrees (Law, Medicine, Engineering etc.) to added career focused studies.

Students develop social and life skills in their formative first 18 years not because it is part of their course load at a University. The social and cultural environment on campuses are petri dishes for development of these skills. The teaching of Life Skills comes from parents with help from academic role models. Parents teach discipline. Parents put the guard rails on behavior and shared experiences with their offspring as examples of acceptable and appreciated courtesy and skill sets. These are taught throughout all the formative years in every culture by parents. The thought that 18 years after parents have provided this role and that this responsibility shifts to academic institutions just because of their proximity to students is redefining the college mission. The reason that many students do not possess these skills is more as a result of parents vacating their role.

There are reasons why it is different in the 21st Century to raise children. Technology alone has changed playtime as well as social development in many ways. But more impactful has been the role of parents. Today with more than 70% of working age women in the workforce, the two-earner household has changed parenting forever. Two jobs and two careers upends the dynamics of past generations of raising children. Higher divorce rates, increased medication and slower teen social development skills are all coincidental attributes recognized throughout the USA (and much of the world) as a result of these factors.

So, what is a society to do to address this relatively new phenomenon?  The knee jerk reaction has been for colleges to assume this training role as part of career services. Not only is this not their role, but there is no training (or financing) for this. To expect a "twenty something" tutor or a full-time professor to substitute for a parent is not applicable and professors have training and expertise in completely different specializations.  Parents must recognize this cannot be vacated earlier in a child's life and just because of college cost pushed onto the college agenda. Parenting is teaching these skills. If there is a shortfall in these skills for employers, then responsibility is for parents  to find adequate and focused training and development of life skills. If colleges are to assume this responsibility, then the corresponding financial resources and expertise becomes a new responsibility as well as a definable value. Colleges should help but with dedicated and defined resources.

Parents are increasingly vacating the role as parents. There is not enough time with two careers. There are more responsibilities of everyone in two earner households. It is easier to cajole, be a friend to a child and not discipline them. Having defined family time while splitting the roles of everything from transportation to flexible work hours is much more complicated with dual careers. But let's not kid ourselves. Parenting is not being a child's best friend. It is not simply cuddling and giving out participation trophies. It is the little lessons of life that are decreasingly being taught as the role of parents evolves and the legacy definition vacated.  Don't expect a new generation to be the same when their role models are different and the very structure of their upbringing dependent on new factors. Colleges need to rethink their role as the new-found providers of Life Skill training and if they are providers the role needs to be defined and funded as well as measurable. Employers need to step up as well.  The expectations of parents and students needs to consider that if the life skill attributes they desire and employers value are to be taught they need to be the providers.

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