Welcome, to the real world

With my recent first, somewhat awkward steps into my first real job I came to realize something that must have bothered a lot of people, both new employees and employers, before me. I’m talking about the very large gap between what we learn in school on the one hand and the skills that are needs to be successful in our first jobs on the other hand. For me personally my education was not at all adequate to prepare me for the tasks and responsibilities in my current position as an employee administrator. When I first started my job, there was a tsunami of information rushing towards me that threatened to overwhelm me, and I wondered why should didn’t prepare me for this. I could compare it to the movie, The Matrix, where our protagonist Neo has been living in a virtual world all his life without realizing it. He then gets torn out of that world and thrown into the real world which is darker and harsher, to which Morpheus says “Welcome, to the real world”. The resemblance is astounding.

Don’t get me wrong though, the direction(s)  followed and the school I went to are top-notch here in Belgium. The problem is that learning programs go out from the premise that the world is a perfect place and that everything operates in a vacuum. Of course, it does not. Unforeseen events both economical, personal and even meteorological events influence our daily routines and causes the course of all things, both large and small, to change.

Furthermore, our current education system provides a solid theoretical basis for us to build upon with experience gained through our first years in the workplace. But I fear we lack the most basic grasp of the world as it currently stands, the real world in which things change and go wrong. That, at least, is the case for us white-collar workers with our fancy Bachelors and Master degrees. No, the ones with a step ahead of us are blue-collar workers. They enjoyed a much more practical education with an adequate amount of hands-on experience which they gained by having teachers who have practical experience themselves. This is an advantage over being thought by people who start teaching fresh from school themselves, without any real experience.

Another advantage are the extended periods of traineeships trough which essential skills and behavioral competencies are acquired. Sure, there are traineeships for students in just about any direction but it’s only for a short period of time (usually a couple of weeks or months) during which a lot of students only get to do the most menial of tasks and thus, in a sense, operate in the same vacuum as they’ve been taught in school.

So, in essence I’m saying that we need to thoroughly rethink our education system on all levels. From primary school all the way to university. Just think about it, is learning Latin or Ancient Greek anything but a waste of time and effort? The course only exists to satisfy demanding parents and giving them the feeling that their child is somehow superior to others in their age group. That may put a little strong, but it’s how I experienced it. Learning a dead language does not offer any skills that can be used later in life. It’s the exact opposite because in reality it’s only setting these kids back further as opposed to their more ‘street-smart’ (for lack of a better term) counterparts.

Though not all is bad. Employers now realize now more than ever that extra education and coaching is needed for employees fresh out of the classroom. And governments are also realizing this, at last. In Belgium for example, we have a very clever and practical Minister of Education (Pascal Smet) who realizes that the current system is a relic of the past and is in dire need of an update.

I believe we should all strive for a better education system that provides the proper attitude and skill set for the real world. And that, is something everyone needs to work on. A better cooperation between companies, schools and governments is needed to pinpoint the problems and solve them with an eye to the future. In due time, I believe this will happen. I just hope it’ll be sooner, rather than later.

What are your thoughts on this? Is there a difference with your country or did you experience it differently? I’d like to hear about it, so don’t hesitate to drop me a line in the comment section below.

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3 thoughts on “Welcome, to the real world

  1. Very observant comments. Things are pretty much the same here in the US. I think back to my own college education, now experience vicariously the college education of my step son, and have many discussions about it with my fiancée who is a new college administrator after having been a professor for several years. It seems that college itself, with the exception of maybe a few program areas, does little to prepare you to for the ‘real world’. I was fortunate in college to have taken advantage of an internship opportunity, which was the best learning experience in all my college education. The internship even led to a job with the same agency a couple years later.

    I’ve discovered that academia isn’t really concerned, for the most part, with preparing you for the real world. Foundational theory, while important, seems to be overly abundant. Many professors either have NEVER actually practiced in the field in which they are teaching, or did so but many years ago. Both of these situations lead to professors who are out of touch with the current real life issues, work environments, and necessary interactions. They only have theory to teach because theory changes very little.

    There are colleges out there, however, who use active professionals in the field to teach their courses. I’m planning on returning to my graduate studies at the American Military University. The Emergency Management and Homeland Security fields of study are taught by my colleagues, some of which I have come to know through my years of work in that field. These are individuals who can conduct quality discussions with students about how things are in the real world, and provide the right guidance to apply theory.

    You will do well, young padawan. Be patient, observant, and mindful of the present. Find yourself a mentor in your new workplace – or join a local professional association like Young Professionals, a Chamber of Commerce, or Society for HRM, where you can also find a mentor to help you transition from theory to applied practice.

    • Thanks for your excellent comment Tim! Sadly, it’s true that most professors never had any real experience. I’ve been fortunate to have a couple of professionals who taught me for a semester, but it wasn’t long enough. There’s a few management schools here that have professors from the workfield, but they cost so much and the material is specifically for higher or middle management and as such isn’t very useful in the first couple of years. But it’s cerainly something I’m going to look into later on.

      I’m very interested in the colleges you mentioned, I’ll look into that as well.

      As for the continuation of your graduate studies, good luck and I’m sure it’ll be an added value!

      And also thanks for your words of encouragement!

  2. [...] element to lowering youth unemployment because freshly graduated students are unprepared for the ‘real world’. I know I was, it was a pretty big culture shock the first few days and I have a better [...]

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