College costs are rising, wages are lagging, and students are getting swept up in the undertow. College is by far the biggest investment students will ever make, yet nobody's teaching them how to keep their heads above water, let alone how to maximize their return.
That's where you and I come in. Each of us can do our part to encourage and equip the next generation.
I bring this up because lately there's been a lot of pressure on colleges to increase their placement rates -- as if students were inanimate objects to be "placed," instead of living, breathing souls with something unique and wonderful to contribute.
Amidst all this pressure is a lot of finger-pointing. Families blame the colleges for not producing job-ready graduates, colleges blame parents or the economy, and nearly all of us at one time or another have blamed "the kids." (Through my years as a university career counselor and adjunct faculty member, I've developed great respect for students, which means among other things, not referring to them as kids.)
My own feeling is that nobody will or should care about our careers half as much as we do -- so it behooves us all to take charge for ourselves. With that said, who among us couldn't use a little help, especially when we're young and just starting out?
3 Ways to Help Prepare the Next Generation
1. Serve as a mentor. Whether it's connecting with students through your college alumni office, or simply taking a student to lunch and asking, "How can I help?" a mentoring relationship can benefit both parties.
One of the best ways you can help is to serve as a sounding board. For example, even when students don't know what they want to do or who they want to be, they almost always know what they don't want. Why not use that information as a starting point to help them clarify their decisions?
If you can, consider offering informational interviews, job shadowing or internships -- or connecting students to those who can provide them. From these three building blocks, students can start to construct a meaningful career.
2. Trade enabling for empowering. If we step in and do the hard work for students, we rob them of the role that is rightfully theirs. We deny them the ability to grow in ways that will serve them for a lifetime. Better to encourage students to use the resources around them, rather than making all other resources unnecessary.
3. Be the example. As I wrote in my first book, "Don't try to be like people half your age. Live so they want to be like you." This means leading lives of joy and integrity, on the job and off -- always taking responsibility for what's not working, versus simply waiting for something or someone else to change.
If we take the time to nurture the next generation, we can hold our heads high, knowing we're part of the solution, not just another adult grousing about "kids these days." We might even strengthen our economy. More importantly, by nurturing the next generation, we will be nurturing our future co-workers and friends.
Gina DeLapa is the author of the forthcoming book, Stuff You Already Know: And Every College Student Should.