The Great Job Myth
At some time during every student’s senior year in college, one thing invariably happens: A freak out. A meltdown. Why? Because the question ”What are you doing when you graduate?” scares us half to death.
For most people, it’s very hard to deal with the fact that, for maybe the first time in their lives, they just have no clue as to what the next step is going to be.
So, what do most students do during this time: look for a job. I mean, that’s what we’re supposed to do after we’re done with college, right? Get a job?
This is the tragic misperception that most students in our state have to deal with. They assume that all their years of education have now prepared them to work for somebody. And if they can’t find somebody to hire them, they more than likely will jump into a grad program without knowing why. Now that’s a scary thought: students going back to school just because they have no other option.
These are the major reasons why most of them are leaving the state. Students have been trained to think that they have to find some place with a “We’re hiring” sign in the window and they’re going other places where they think they can find it. Because of the over 15 percent unemployment rate, students just aren’t looking in Michigan.
Can you imagine what would happen if we encouraged students to use the years that they would’ve spent job hopping harnessing their creative potential, developing ideas, and starting their own businesses?
I’m not saying that looking for a job, or getting a job, are bad things. That goes for grad programs, too. In fact, the best strategy for finding the best opportunity after college is by multiplying your options. But the obsession with finding a job that has crept into Michigan’s culture has limited our ability to reach our creative potential as a state. Students coming out of college are discouraged from developing their own ideas, from being creative, from thinking outside the box, and from becoming something that this state really, really needs: an entrepreneur.
There has been a lot of big talk from our officials in state and local government about fostering entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial communities for our economy. But what that has translated to is far from it, as further time, money and effort are being put into initiatives like the 21st century job fund that supposedly foster growth in Michigan’s “niche markets.” These strategies continue to reinforce those cultural myths that there are certain “positions” that need to be “filled” by talented college graduates in order for our state to succeed. It prematurely pegs students to careers that likely don’t fully optimize their value as professionals.
Students have been discouraged from taking risks, which is why most of them settle for a job that they might not be satisfied with right out of college. No wonder the average person switches jobs somewhere around 6 or 7 times.
Can you imagine what would happen if we encouraged students to use the years that they would’ve spent job hopping harnessing their creative potential, developing ideas, and starting their own businesses? To be sure, a lot of trial and error would occur. Many failures happen when going through ideas. Success takes time. But eventually, something sticks. They’ll find their own niche in the economy, and they’ll hire their own employees. Now that’s how you really create jobs, not to mention a competitive 21st century economy rooted in new, innovative businesses.
How do we do this? How do we create a culture that encourages this type of crazy, risk taking, creative behavior? Well, it starts in our communities, in our neighborhoods, in our homes. As a community, we have to start talking, and start sharing ideas. Students should be taking field trips to places like the Technology Innovation Center on Grand River, where 13 start-ups are beginning their entrepreneurial journey. University officials need to be implementing campaigns to foster awareness of greater Lansing’s resources for new businesses and entrepreneurs among college students. Economic developers must start actively including students in conversations about how to grow the region. Everybody, including students, should be reading newspapers and periodicals like Lansing Capital Gains because it highlights entrepreneurial individuals and success stories instead of the typical media outlets that scare students with their horrifying job loss stories. In our daily rhetoric, we cannot be saying things like “we are preparing our students for real jobs to keep our community and our state competitive.” We need to be saying “we’re preparing them to be creative and successful. We’re preparing them to create and find their own opportunities.” Students have always been able to find their own opportunities. It’s time to start helping them broaden their horizons and open their minds to the wonderful possibilities that lie outside of an office cubicle…and (potentially) right here in Michigan.
Dan Redford is a senior at Michigan State University, double-majoring in International Relations and Chinese. He has recently co-founded his own company called Spotlight Campus Consulting, LLC, which works to connect economic developers, community organizers, businesses and media groups to Gen Y in the Lansing region.
- Lansing’s Entrepreneurial Revival (February 26, 2010)
- Rethinking ‘Talent Retention’ (December 7, 2009)
- The Mitten: One Size Fits Most? (December 14, 2009)
- If You Rebuild It, They Will Come, part 1 (November 16, 2009)
- A Convergence of Higher Education and Quality of Life (May 17, 2010)