On my radar: The university lemming run

2013-01-20 10:00

Students are willing to enrol in just about anything these days

This week I read about a new matriculant from Kimberley who trekked all the way from Northern Cape to Gauteng to join the long registration queues at the Tshwane University of Technology to enrol in “whatever course is ­available at the institution”.

The learner apparently wants to study biomedical technology, “but would settle for a legal assistance course”.

It seems like a pretty ­random career selection, but there is some method to this madness.

Since there are now more first-year students applying at our universities than there are spaces available, the strategy is to just get into the institution – via whatever course – and then hopefully swap courses once you’ve made it through the hallowed gates.

After the death of a parent in a stampede at the gates of the University of Johannesburg last year, most universities no longer accept walk-in applicants, which further fuels registration panic at this time of year.

The pressure of writing matric, coupled with signing on for tertiary education, has become so overwhelming that I feel we’ve lost sight of what we’re trying to achieve in the education process: to set young ­people on a path to adulthood with knowledge or a skill that will ultimately provide them with an ability to earn a living. It sounds simplistic, but bear with me.

For most South Africans, a university degree is seen as the ultimate key to success. However, in terms of 21st-century work and career trends, this notion is fast becoming outdated.

It’s not that a degree is obsolete; it’s just no longer a guarantee of ­employment.

It’s a hard fact to swallow, especially for an emerging middle class, where many young learners are the first in a family to receive the opportunity of going to university.

For these families, the scroll of ­paper you receive upon graduation equates to being set up for life.

The pressure is brutal.

But the world is changing so fast that in many industries the knowledge you gain during tertiary education no longer translates into the skills needed to work in that industry.

It’s a cruel twist of fate in our new world order.

Besides the growing disconnect between academic learning and working in the real world, there is ­another crucial point to this equation that we are missing completely.

I recently watched a fascinating documentary that tracked the development of the human brain: from the kaleidoscope of neurons connecting when we are babies, to the eventual settling down and final formation of an adult brain, around the age of 21.

Between the ages of 16 and 21, apart from raging hormones, the brain is somewhat volatile.

Why then do we expect young adults to make a lifelong career decision when their brains have not yet reached maturity?

If you’re in your late 20s or early 30s, I guarantee that you are in a job that will have ­almost no bearing on what you thought you wanted to do when you left school.

You’re probably even experimenting with your second ­career.

This is a perfectly normal ­trajectory for Generation Ys, who embrace the trend of multiple ­careers within a lifetime.

My point is we have been ­conditioned to assume the logical progression of life is to plunge into a career – usually with academic studies as the driver – as soon as we have finished high school, while our physiology begs to differ.

But we live in a fast-track world with “instant gratification” as the youth credo.

A recent report by the Centre for Development and Enterprise found that thousands of unemployed youth would rather sit at home doing nothing than take on menial work.

They do not know what they’re missing.

I learnt all I know about fine dining and the etiquette that goes with it by waiting ­tables at a high-end restaurant.

I learnt about life – as well as my ability to survive on my own – by ­backpacking through foreign nations.

It instilled in me a wisdom far beyond my years and granted me soft skills that could never be taught academically.

For a digital generation, these are precisely the soft skills they are ­lacking, which are most cherished by prospective employers.

Wouldn’t it be better then to experience the university of life before deciding on a career path, rather than plunging into an academic course?

Ironically, the former option is ­actually the gateway to instant ­gratification, but unfortunately, the lemmings aren’t listening.

» Chang is the founder of Flux Trends: Visit www.fluxtrends.com

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