I am very pleased to feature this guest post by Tanveer Naseer. I found Tanveer on Twitter and have been following and enjoying his blog for about a year. His brief bio follows this thought provoking post (please leave a comment!). Thanks, Tanveer!
Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported the results of an interesting survey that should encourage some reflection and review by both university graduates and businesses, and hopefully the various educational institutions as well.
From April to June of this year, over 10 000 currently employed university graduates (graduated university between 1999 to 2010) were asked to rate how satisfied they were with their current career path. Naturally, the result which has received the most attention is the rather low satisfaction rate found among psychology majors, who ranked almost 20-percentage points lower than the second-to last group on the scale. While the title of the Wall Street Journal article succinctly explains the reason behind this low satisfaction rate among psychology majors, there’s something more disturbing about the overall findings that should really the focus here.
Looking at the group of university graduates that ranked as the most satisfied in terms of their current career path, we see that only 54% of respondents replied in the affirmative. And this result comes from a group of employees that the survey authors define as working “within a set of jobs deemed satisfying, well-paid, and with growth potential”. In other words, regardless of what discipline you study while attending university, there’s a 50% or more chance that you won’t be satisfied with the career path it helps you to take.
Evidently, businesses are doing their part through offering opportunities for growth and reasonable financial renumeration, given the profile of the respondents that were the focus of this study. So what then can we make of this discrepancy among employees who are well-paid and have those desired opportunities for professional growth, and their assessment that their career path hasn’t lived up to what they hoped for? Looking at the other key player in this equation, it’s clear that the disconnect seen here comes from the educational institutions that people attend. Specifically, with their expectations of how their education will help them secure the career path they wish to undertake and what they actually experience once they’re out in the ‘real world’.
This is where many will argue that the point of seeking a university education is not simply to get a better job, but to develop a sense of knowledge and understanding about a particular discipline or field of study. But here is where I think we need to cast aside such lofty assumptions and ask instead what is the purpose of education? Certainly one purpose of educational institutions is to serve the community in which it’s based, namely in helping to guide individuals toward becoming productive members of that community, instead of mere drains on their resources.
This in many ways reflects the role of leadership as well, where one of the responsibilities of being a leader is to encourage the development of their employee’s strengths, both for the benefit of the organization as well as the individual.
Another responsibility of leadership is to seek out those individuals who can best help you to reach your organization’s objectives. Here again, we see a common thread between leadership and our educational systems as universities regularly seek out individuals, both students and professors, who they believe will help them achieve the goals they have for their institution.
This line of thought, though, leads to another key question we need to ask in light of such findings and that is what are we expecting in terms of results from our educational systems? The easy answer is to have students who achieve high levels of success, as defined by earning a high average class percentile. But in looking at the results of the survey above, is this really the result we should be expecting? Or is it instead answering the question are we ensuring that our methods and processes are serving the needs of our students? The results above certainly provide us with the answer to that question.
And this is where we have to admit that in addressing all the problems we’re currently seeing in our educational systems, it’s not merely a question of inadequate funding or insufficient numbers of teachers, though those are certainly problems that need to be addressed. No, the bigger issue that first needs to be addressed here is a failure of leadership; of failing to serve the needs of those who join these institutions not merely to help raise them in prominence and perceived success, but to gain something that will help them grow in the direction of their desired career path.
It’s not enough to continue to perpetuate the image of the ivory tower, of us warning students about to graduate about what it’s really like ‘out there in the real world’. It’s not enough to accept good intentions over expected results of contributing our time, effort, and resources. What is required instead is something Peter Drucker once spoke of in discussing the education system of tomorrow:
(American) education tomorrow will have to think through who its constituents are. It will have to learn to establish relations with them. It will have to learn, above all, to get across to them what each constituency can and should expect from the school and what the school can and should expect from each constituency.
The results of this new survey should hopefully serve as a wakeup call, both to the education system and its “constituents”, to address this dramatic disconnect by understanding the true nature of leadership that is needed here – that of serving the needs of others in order to help them to not only grow, but also to achieve the objectives that compelled them to join our group, while at the same time ensuring their help in reaching the goals we set out for the organization.
Tanveer Naseer is a business coach who works with small businesses and entrepreneurs to develop new strategies for growth and development that keeps the focus on what makes them passionate about their business.
Thanks to his diverse experiences working in the scientific and business worlds, he has developed a keen understanding of leadership and work practices, if not also a novel approach to taking on new challenges or situations. You can read more of his writings on leadership and workplace interactions on his blog at TanveerNaseer.com. You can also follow him on Twitter – @TanveerNaseer.