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NOW Atlantic: Smart thinking for a changing world
In just a few weeks, hundreds of post-secondary students will walk across the stage, accept a diploma or degree and enter the working world (possibly). Others will continue their education journey, seeking out a masters, doctorate or other alphabet soup title.
But what exactly is pushing today’s students to seek out education and careers in this world of changing perspectives?
Doctor Erin Steuter, head of sociology at Mount Allison University said society’s “fear culture” is a major factor in a student’s education and the steps they take post-graduation.
“There’s a very high level of anxiety. They fear failure, that they’ll be shut down if they voice an opinion, or that the job they want isn’t out there… But I always tell the students I teach — someone has to have the job, why can’t it be you?” said Steuter.
Steuter’s research specializes in the study of the societal world and how human beings navigate it and the media.
She said today’s students and young professionals want to make a difference in the world.
“They want to use their privilege.”
Steuter said, while it was a different time when she went to school for university, she never doubted she would have a job.
“I completely believed that I would have a job that was meaningful. Today’s students want that. They don’t want to just go and do a job.
“It’s not buyer beware anymore — we try to teach them ... strategies to help them get to where they want to be.”
Steuter tells her students about the “cool things” that people have been able to do — specifically with their sociology degree — and other practices that have been put in place thanks to their work and studies.
“They want to use their privilege.”
On top of that, Steuter says today’s students have to deal with a lot of noise in the media and on social platforms.
“There’s so much information out there. I think [students] are really starting to reject perfectionism. Because, who benefits from the media constantly telling you there’s not enough room for everybody on top.”
The workforce has changed
“There’s not employee above you training you. Today, students need to be able to make a list, figure out what needs to be done and draw from their experience — and if you can’t well go learn and fix it.
“I was talking to a student and they were asking me about what to put on their resume. Say it was a job that had to do with managing an event — they said they didn’t have any direct work experience. Then I asked them about their volunteerism, because all of that experience counted for something. They had organized the orientation weeks, worked for other events.”
Steuter says students and young professionals are also faced with stereotypes.
“There’s the mindset that millennials don’t take constructive criticism well or there’s the stereotype that they will flit from job to job and won’t commit to anything.”
They’re very aware of what could come back to bite them, she said, referring to the practice of employers looking through possible workers’ social medias and online foot prints.
“But at the same time, employers love that millennials are tech- and social media-savvy, that they explain their ideas and look for evidence based solutions.
“They have interest in intercultural communications – sensitivity to various issues in the workplace, they’re responsive to conversation.”
One thing that most students look for while on the job hunt is the ability for work-life-balance: an equilibrium between the work life and personal life.
“I feel very sure that that’s what the students want. But they also want to be self-sufficient and part of the solution. They’re thinking about life partners and possible families and not necessarily materialistic things. They want to feel like they can go and launch themselves forward.”
Speak up, speak out
Steuter says she also finds it’s hard to get students to voice their opinions.
“That’s present even in the classroom — we’ll have an open discussion and it’s quiet, with only a few providing a voice to the conversation. They don’t want to get up and put themselves out there only to fall.”
As for her students, there are a number of things she encourages them to keep in mind: try new things, take risks, don’t be afraid to “bomb” at things, volunteer and remember it’s not always a case of either you have it or you don’t.