Life Long Learning

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Easy as pie!  It used to be all you had to do was work hard in high school.  That got you into a good college.  Hard work there got you a good job and then you were set for life.  At least that was the accepted wisdom.  Well, I'm not sure if it ever really worked that way, but one thing's for certain:  it sure ain't workin' now.

For many graduating students, student loans the size of mortgages and an uncertain job outlook are the norms.  The Globe and Mail quoted a 2005 Statistics Canada report showing that student loans are on the rise in both quantity and amount.  This insanity has to stop.  We need to abandon the idea that four years of education (or even 6 or 8) can prepare you for a career.

Let's face it:  very few people know what they are capable of or what they truly want to do with thier lives at the age of 18.

The alternative is easy and it's available now:  co-op programs.  Combine earning and learning.  Try before you buy.  Find out who you are and what you're made of now.  At the other end of the spectrum, take time off to sharpen your tools - decide what areas you need more technical training in and pursue them in a disciplined and organized way.  You need BOTH book learning and experience to be effective.

In my career as a consultant, the importance of having a deep understanding of the theoretical model underpinning the business was demonstrated to me over and over.  As an implementer of computer systems, one of my first tasks was to ask my clients to imagine their perfect system.  Often the client staff I worked with had oodles of experience but no accounting designation.  They had trouble imagining something other than their current system.  So, if the current software had a limitation and the client had created a work-around, they would blindly build that inefficient approach into the new system.  They just didn't know any better.  On the other hand, a sound knowledge of accounting theory helps you evaluate the current system against a perfect model, but if you don't have practical experience, you don't know when to compromise.

So, how do we change the traditions locked in those ivy-covered halls of academia?  By getting involve in local university and college co-op programs, by building training into people's performance reviews, by helping staff imagine their future, but most of all, by talking openly about the current sad state of affairs for university grads.


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