Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Look for customers and markets, not jobs.

I recently saw a news post on Facebook that had a photo of youth from an East African country in a public demonstration. The young people were on the street in a protest to highlight growing unemployment among university graduates. One placard read: ‘For every ten applicants only one gets a job. Where should we go?’
Young people find themselves in difficult times with growing unemployment in all continents. And instead of joining everyone around you moaning, what else can you do?

Think for yourself. All along you have had a teacher or parent come to your rescue when there seemed to be darkness all around. It is your turn to establish why you are here, what you are living for and what you will do with your time and gifts (yes, you have some). You are likely to end up on a path to slavery if you let other people do that for you.
Finding a job after graduation lets you have a place where you are serve clients in a business that other individuals have struggled to set up over many years. You probably do not know their story. But they may have taken loans, begged help from family and perhaps failed many times before managing to stay afloat. No one is entitled to entering that safe place straight from college.  Would you like to try square one?
There are opportunities in the various circumstances we find ourselves in if we bother to stop and ask: how did I get here?  Why did I enroll for a course that makes one feel useless unless they are looking at the job advert supplement of a newspaper? If you chose the easy way through college, you may want to consider finding a course that gives you hard skills and empowers you to provide services and produce goods that society needs.
The days of secure, paid employment in government offices or the private sector are over for the majority of the population. There will be more workers offering their services for pay in short or long-term contracts. Prospective customers are no longer those within country boundaries. New opportunities can be accessed in new ways with technological advancement.
Stop moaning about jobs and go after the markets. 
Quote of the day:

It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.
(Leonardo da Vinci)

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Here come the robots

If you live in the developed world, you will already have noticed the rising influence of automation in industry, especially in manufacturing and agriculture. The Oxford Martin Program on the Impacts of Future Technology estimates that 45 percent of American jobs may be taken by computers in the next 20 years.

Photo: Jiuguang Wang (Flickr)
In the Canadian province of Ontario where I live, there are machines to milk cows, prune grapevines and to do a whole range of farm and store-related tasks. At one farm in Seaforth, the new equipment is not only able to milk a cow, but also indicate when the animal is likely to fall sick or is ready to get pregnant.
The number of areas where machines are able to replace human beings is not only restricted to routine operations. Car manufacturing plants in Japan have used robots for a while. At one of the Toyota factories in Japan, 96 percent of production is done by 760 robots even as Toyota tries to reverse this trend in order to nurture master craftsmen.

Where do these developments leave the hordes of job-seeking young people (many without any technical skill)? Harvard University researcher Tony Wagner provides a useful maxim for those entering college or about to leave in search for work: ‘the world doesn’t care what you know. What the world cares about is what you do with what you know.’ As more jobs are taken over by machines, more individuals will be required to acquire new higher-order skills and continually learn in order to keep jobs or offer their services in the market.

The depth of learning that takes place in our colleges and universities will determine whether young people can do something with their education and even muster machines before they take their jobs. In many of my posts I will highlight the value of learning to write computer code. Computer programming is one of the tools that will enable many young people enter portfolio careers and to ride ahead of machines (as machines depend on our instructions). In England, programming is going to be taught from elementary school (through to 16 years) starting this September.

The ability to write instructions for machines is the literacy of the 21st century. Do not get left behind.

          (Dr Tony Wagner speaks about 7 essential survival skills in this video)

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

African youth need trade skills not university degrees

An International Conference on Putting Youth to Work is underway in Dakar, Senegal until 30 January 2014. The event has been organized by Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) in partnership with the Partnership for Economic Policy. It is meant to be a platform for sharing ideas towards solutions to Africa’s predicament of mass youth unemployment.
It has been reported that 83 percent of the unemployed in Uganda are youth; the figures in Zimbabwe and Senegal stand at 68 and 56 percent respectively.

Youth unemployment is not unique to Africa. Western Europe and other parts of the world are in difficult circumstances as well. In the UK, it has been found that half of the parents are in the dark about their children’s career options.
In a survey done by Ernst and Young in the UK, it was found that parents and employers had different perceptions about the value of going to university. While parents valued a university qualification, employers were more interested in work experience. In the OECD’s Africa Economic Outlook 2012 Report focusing on youth employment, it was noted that though schools and institutions of higher learning in most African countries are not providing young people with the skills employers are looking for, a bigger problem is the low demand for labour.

Instead of going sheepishly following everyone spending money on university programs that lead into the unemployment abyss, let us encourage young African men and women to look for trade skills that give them power to work with their head and hands and offer high quality services that we need every day (vehicle, power installation repairs, plumbing, fabrication, computer software solutions, etc). Charles Handy called it portfolio work.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

What are you teaching your children?

I recently came across important questions on a blog of a famous American businessman. He was writing in connection to the beginning of a new school year in the fall and on educational achievement of school-going children. His main thrust was financial education.

The questions: “What are our schools teaching our kids? Is it really the information they need to succeed in life? Are they being taught to think for themselves and to solve problems?” The businessman contends that our traditional schools have failed to teach children to think for themselves and all key skills they need to be successful.

It seems majority of parents or guardians of young people consider that the job of educating their children belongs first to the state, or a school. As a result, parents focus on providing food, clothing, medical care and entertaining their children (or filling up houses with gadgets). Schools then do whatever they can in fulfilling the duty of education.

I will turn the first question to the parents: what are you actively teaching your children? Although I won’t belabour the case for parents as the first educators of their children; here is an alternative question. Where else do parents go when schools and higher education system fail to be good guides and become instead sources of confusion and hindrances to true education? In the heart of the child that each one of us is we would consider ‘going home’ to a parent, to family.

So then, what and how are parents to teach their children? I suppose every parent would want to teach their child what would make them competent in life’s varied circumstances (work, leisure, difficulty, and uncertainty) and ultimately how to find happiness.

How to teach? Let’s break down the task of teaching. Teaching takes place only when its intended result -- which must be known from the start -- is achieved -- when the child is taught.
One can try to teach their child forgiveness, but they have not taught until the message reaches the child and the he or she is seen forgiving habitually (even in petty matters).  Being taught means to perceive that what the teacher has said is true and valid, to perceive why it is so and to do it.

One way parents try to teach is by modelling the behaviour they would like taught to their children. Children usually assimilate the behaviour and messages (good and bad) in the home without the need to be drummed into them. However, the teaching is not done until the message (forgiving is good, forgiving helps relationships) reaches them and they practice it.
Parents who decide to leave education to the schools will find (albeit rather late) that their children did not learn much else apart from subject facts that are soon forgotten after receiving a grade. For those who choose to take up the challenge, there’s much work to do in learning and seeking wisdom to teach one’s children.  Parents who have the time and ability may decide to home-school whereas others may only manage to teach children how to play a musical instrument. Whichever course is taken, you will have made a choice to give of yourselves and that is an invaluable legacy for your children.

What can you begin to do now? Here is some inspiration from Paul Bregman.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Woe to the teacher who has not embraced the internet

Last week the American businessman and financial education activist Robert Kiyosaki made a remark on Facebook that did not go well with many people who follow him. He said the ‘old idea of a teacher is obsolete; the internet and mobile devices are how people are learning’.
There were many individuals who insisted he was so wrong and that the statement undermined the work of teachers. They, like many of us who use public forums like this, were too quick to disagree without observing how Kiyosaki presented his claim. The key words there were ‘old idea of teacher’. With the opportunity to stay judgment until they have thought about the statement, many who disagreed may have a different take.

A few decades ago (and unfortunately in some places today), the transmission approach to teaching was the way schools operated. Teachers and prescribed text books were the deposits of knowledge and understanding. Students paid attention to learn as much as they could from the teacher. Once in a while, a prudent teacher realized the students also had something to offer and would incorporate discussions and feedback sessions. The students mostly took the teachers’ interpretation, who in turn may have gleaned it from a textbook author. In other words, one would learn what the teacher had learned.

It was important to learn what was expected because one would be tested at the end of a school term.
In many cases then (and today) what is not prescribed in the curriculum does not get taught.

The advent of information and communication technology and tools now gives the teacher and student new possibilities. The teacher may use podcasts with ideas and perspectives from other teachers to supplement their own effort. Almost all the knowledge the teacher previously brought to the class is now available for the student on the internet. The student only needs prudence to ask guidance on where to find reliable resources.

Robert Kiyosaki is not against teachers. He wants to point out that the internet and related technology tools are a big part of the teaching and learning process. Teachers who will not step up to the challenge of incorporating new technology tools in their practice are not only at a disadvantage, but dangerous for our schools. Although they can be great mentors and offer inspiration for young people, they offer an impoverished learning experience as they are likely to keep behind developments in their respective teaching areas.

Alvin Toffler has said that the illiterate of the twenty first century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn. 

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Do you need that Master’s degree or experience?

You have hardly been a year out of university after a three or four-year Bachelor’s program. In these times I suspect most of the year has been spent enjoying your new found freedom from academic study, course tests and exams. After a few months of rest, the race to find work begins.  If you have found a job or started your own small business (as a sole service provider), you are now trying to stabilize in that new undertaking. In the case of those looking for employment, the search continues.

Hardly a year or two after leaving university there will be cries for you to acquire new qualifications. This is made to appear even more urgent for those who have no work or are in employment that they do not find fulfilling. You have been told that there are so many people ready to present a Bachelor’s certificate with their next job application. It will be at least a second class computer science, engineering, social science or physics degree. So yours is not that special.

It is true a Master’s degree may give you an edge at the job interview following elimination of many others. But this is not always the case.

I argue here that the best approach to the decision to advance to a Master’s degree is to consider what the extra credential will contribute to your productive ability. Furthermore, that the best measure of one’s productive ability is in what they can do with what they know (not just what they know). The best way to improve your productive ability is by obtaining work experience.

One is better off spending two or three years working full-time in a busy finance department of a large corporation than a year or so on a MBA program straight after a bachelor’s degree. If a Master’s degree does not offer you the possibility of working on real products or services for real clients (say with a semester of internship), you really have to think twice about spending money or time on it. Besides, working with real clients solving real problems gives you a wide range of experiences to take to graduate lecture discussions.
Should it matter if I’m offered a Masters scholarship? Yes. Time spent shuffling more pages in text books and solving structured problems keeps you behind colleagues who learn from performance challenges at the frontlines on the job.

Another way of looking at the decision is to consider what material rewards a promotion (resulting from a new Masters qualification) will bring or the intellectual rewards of advanced study in your discipline that gives you the capacity for deeper analysis of workplace problems.

I would definitely discourage young people fresh from university from advancing to Masters study just to fill time without employment.

A must share: Bob Parsons' 16 rules for business and life

Friday, 26 July 2013

Why you are still jobless

There are quite a number of writers on unemployment, but they mostly write from a narrow perspective. They assume they are writing for an audience of people seeking employment and not those who wish to start a business on their own or in partnership with others. They tell you that you are jobless because you do not know how to demonstrate what you know and can do, that your resume is disorganized and strewn with errors and you do not take networking seriously.
The result of drumming the wrong message without end is obscuring the option of using whatever skill young people have to enter the goods and services market.  There's another view.

Increasing competitiveness and technological advances have brought greater uncertainty in the way we work and the kind of work we do. That is something you can benefit from if you decide to change to an entrepreneurial mindset. It is a new way of thinking that one can benefit from the uncertainty.

The internet as a new medium of business has unbelievable potential to transform all aspects of life including prospects for those joining the workforce. So how will you get started? Here are a few things to take note of.
  1.  Begin with a dream. We all have dreams and can have new dreams. The trouble is, when we encounter the slightest difficulty, there is a chance of a dream getting shelved and never revisited.
  2. Seek out opportunities daily. Be alert and observant for changes in what is advertised in the papers, what people are talking about, trouble you may be having with appliances at home, etc. Read biographies of outstanding entrepreneurs, they are treasure houses.
  3. Keep a record of your business ideas. Write a short description of the business idea (concept), find data that can help you establish whether the idea is feasible. This may include things like estimates of likely customers.
  4. You need to examine who is already in the market with a similar service or product and how you can differentiate your offering from theirs.
  5. Look out for particular skills or resources that you will need to thrive in the market. Establish ways of acquiring them. There are plenty of Teach Yourself resources online. 

The business opportunity should be something you love to do. That way you will go to work that is tough, but something you are committed to and find enjoyable.

There will be difficulties and rejection as you start out. Remember the way of beginning on your own is one of restlessness, persistence and perseverance. In the 1950s Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald’s approached relatives and friends for backing to start a new kind of hamburger restaurant. They discouraged him and told him to stick to selling milkshake blenders.
The 3M Corporation did not see potential in post-its (sticky notes) when Art Fry first brought the idea to management. He did not give up. Sticky notes are now a several hundred million business for 3M.
They did not give up. You too can succeed as an entrepreneur, initiator and developer and not just an employee.

*Listen to Thomas Friedman speak about changes in times of rapid technological advance