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Human Launch Failures are Disastrous

Updated: Jul 23, 2020

The Georgetown University Center on Learning and Work introduced the phrase “Failure to Launch” in 2013 when it published FAILURE TO LAUNCH: Structural Shift and the New Lost Generation.

Roughly 2 in 5 young Canadians, even those with degrees, fail to launch or transition smoothly from education to work. Many begin their careers in low wage jobs unrelated to their studies and interests. They spend years unsure how, or if, they will ever land a “good” job, pay down student debt, and buy a house, a car, or build a life like their parents did.

Too often, this “failure to launch” is regarded as a personal failing, one brought about by a lack of self-discipline, poor planning, or an overall sense of entitlement. But, it's a societal issue — one that affects all of us. And it’s caused by our collective failure to adequately equip students for life beyond school.

Unemployment, underemployment, employee dissatisfaction and disengagement cost society tens of billions of dollars each year. We need our young people in good jobs as early as possible in their careers. Today’s school leavers will, over the next 30-50 years, become our family, community, business, and government leaders. They will also carry the primary burden of taxation. Those who spend their early adulthood drifting between unemployment and underemployment risk a lifelong hit to earnings and lifestyle.

That hit is felt by all of us in lost productivity for employers and prosperity for communities, reduced consumer spending, curtailed tax revenues, civic disengagement, family disfunction, an overburdened mental health system, substance abuse, social assistance, welfare, and pervasive stress and unhappiness. The cost of human launch failures is intolerable.

Unemployment, underemployment, employee dissatisfaction and disengagement cost society tens of billions of dollars each year.

There is no consensus on whose job it is to guide young people through this increasingly difficult passage to adulthood and career. I believe it’s everyone’s job because we are all stakeholders. Educators, parents, employers, and governments must collaborate to prepare our youth for early career and life success. At present, too many young people make critical life decisions in a virtual information vacuum. As a result, many have developed skills the workforce doesn’t need, as, bizarrely, many firms hunger for qualified labour.

Students are in school from Kindergarten until they enter the workforce. Yet, few teachers have the mandate, interest, training, time, or resources they need to help students explore career and life possibilities beyond school. Meanwhile, many companies have all but abandoned our young, offering fewer entry-level and summer jobs and reducing their investment in employee training by 40 per cent since 1993. They expect the education system to deliver work-ready graduates but few educators see this as their mission.

Transition support is currently focused on post-secondary students and recent graduates. As important and necessary as this is, I believe K-12 education is more strategic. By law, all young people must go to primary and secondary schools or participate in home schooling. They represent our entire future adult population. Beyond high school students scatter in different directions. Efforts to help them become hit and miss and are too late for many.

To be clear, I'm NOT saying education should just be about preparing students for future jobs. I’m saying the primary focus of K-12 education should be preparing students for success in life (not just work) beyond school. Slavish adherence to prescribed, age-based curricula and testing to prepare students for university is failing far too many students and society.

This is a national problem that demands national resolution. With another national election looming, we must elect leaders who are willing to build bridges between educators, employers, national, local and provincial governments to ensure our youth leave formal education life-ready. We must set future generations on personal pathways to success while they are still in school.

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