It’s probably not babysitting if they’re eighteen.
In all honesty, it’s probably grooming. Especially as they’re old enough to drink (in most parts of the world).
But here in the UK it’s A-Levels season and it’s certainly an interesting one to watch. More people will miss out on a place at university this year than ever before.
It’s also the last chance to avoid the nightmarish tripling of university fees that caused the second (or was it third?) most recent riots in London.
So here is my advice for your slightly older children. It’s borne out of a conversation I have with an imaginary version of myself that has done or is doing precisely this. And a real conversation I had the other day with the slightly-less-imaginary Jason.
The advice isn’t anti-academic… perish the thought. It’s anti-tertiary-business-models.
What I would say to your kids depends on how they answer the following:
Got into the (non-ridiculous) course that you wanted?
Good for you. Do it. But only if it’s a non-ridiculous course. All you need to do is set up an e-business while you’re studying and you’re reasonably future-proofed as far as I can tell.
How do you tell if your course is ridiculous? Ask someone over sixty. If they say “pfff, that’s a ridiculous degree” then you are getting into too much debt.
Doesn’t mean don’t follow your passion, it only means you’re paying too much to do so. I have a film degree that I paid too much for. I know of which I speak.
Didn’t get the course you want?
Seven people will be competing for every place available in clearing. Don’t settle. Going after that is what the Sun Tzu calls attacking a walled city. Don’t do it.
Ditch the whole idea and do the following:
You might wail and gnash your teeth -this pampered generation especially- at the unfairness of it all but that is the hand you were dealt. My grandmother got an opera scholarship but World War II broke out and all scholarships were void. So it could be worse.
The world of tertiary qualifications is in turmoil.
- Degrees are too expensive.
- Degrees no longer offer a guarantee of post-graduation employment.
- Degrees aren’t an efficient knowledge delivery mechanism in a world that moves this fast.
- There is too much competition for too few places. The market is too crowded.
- Youth unemployment is climbing in every developed economy, no matter what you do.
This is what is meant by walled city. According to the Sun Tzu, you should only attack after you have secured victory. This is taking whole. Scrambling against huge competition for an overpriced piece of paper that is plummeting in value and usefulness in the real world is going into battle with -or even laying siege to- a very powerful opponent. Once battle is joined you have already lost.
Still, we’re all wizards here. Chaos and disruption is where we swim. In the words of Sage of Omaha, “it would be a shame to waste this crisis”.
1. Do the cheapest non-fake business degree you can find
Unless it says Oxford or Harvard or whatever happens to be the best in your particular world then it’s not a selling point. People aren’t going to care that much.
And just stick to business. This is what I should have done -opting for a year of arts postgrad studying film- but the late nineties was a different time. (I turned my film degree into as much of a business degree as I could by studying film budgeting and production management.) The existence of a tertiary qualification is binary. Either you have one or you don’t. My two mentors in the media world had degrees in Education and Biomedial Science and they ran digital strategy departments. Seriously, no one cares.
Tertiary education as an industry is being disrupted by the internet the same way that newspapers were. Basically they have had their function completely replaced:
- People used to go to college to meet and have sex with like-minded people. The internet is better at this on one count and soon the other also. Sex is easy enough to procure when you’re young and drunk, wherever you are. I don’t recall any of my non-university friends getting less sex than anyone else. We were all at the same parties. (Sidebar: Getting heavily into two decades of debt for the opportunity to have NSA sex means you are still paying for sex you’re just not very good at it.)
- People used to go to college to expose themselves to great ideas and brilliant minds. The internet is the best idea sharing technology humankind has ever created.
- There are no bucolic, overall-wearing hayseeds anymore. Kids today have grown up in a world where hardcore pornography and the purchasing of child brides is available to them on their phone. They’re hardly going to show up at college and gawk at their first lesbian or Chinese kid. Colleges are no longer the gatekeepers of life experience.
Unless your parents are millionaires -in which case what do you even care- you will not be learning from the greatest Liberal Arts minds in the world.
How fortunate, then, that they’re widely available in video lecture form right across the internet. For free.
Whoever you are, whatever your age, you need to take advantage of the free learning and qualification out there right now. I shared this the other day but here it is again: The Edupunk’s Guide To A DIY Credential. It’s pretty good but not as good as a weekend of personal research.
2. Get certified rather than qualified
Project manager, legal executive, Mixologist. Whatever, there are myriad professional certifications out there that you are better off stacking on top of each other than sinking five times the money into getting one single qualification (in film). They still count for something and, as long as you pick one that has a recognised governing body, don’t have a ‘quality hierarchy’: you’re either certified in Prince2 or you’re not.
They’re also typically more flexible in terms of study load as well, meaning you can work at the same time. Which is good because the core piece of advice I want to say to your slightly older kids is get some real world experience in business and get qualified in a way that doesn’t cripple you with debt.
In fact, you could always lean into the curve by moving somewhere that is the exact sweet spot between lower living costs and increased business opportunities. In the UK that could be market towns in the south west (as long as you move in the off-season) for instance.
3. Start a business without getting into debt
When I got canned by Discovery Channel they offered everyone in the whole team the option between professional coaching for jobseekers or a course in setting up a small business in the UK.
No one can teach me anything about job seeking that I don’t already know from hard, painful experience so I opted for the small business course. (I’d done freelancing and contracting before but in countries with very different laws and tax rules.)
In one way it was amazing because it opened me up to a couple of really good contracting gigs here in London but in another way it was kinda a scam. And it was kinda a scam because it was basically comprised of a list of free government resources and tips on how to best use them.
That was my big realisation. Governments want you to go into business so they can grow their tax base. For instance, did you know you can just front up to the British Library and get free business advice (as well as a place to work)?
Doesn’t matter what country you are in, there will be resources designed to help you start a business. Just do it without getting into debt.
I’ve set up teams in three countries so far. I would probably hire Mike (himself college-educated) over your recently-graduated kid even if he/she had interned at Microsoft. Here’s why:
Whatever you are doing with your life, you can see opportunities to make incremental income. I see them in my job every day but I am using my non-work time for things I currently consider to be more valuable based on a simple CBA. If you don’t have a job, find them through volunteering at a charity or whatever. Everyone can make an extra $1K. (Highly recommended. Sign up.)
4. Become proficient in a class indicator
People hire those similar to themselves. So get reasonably good -but not too good- at golf. Or skiing. Or whatever.
That way, when it comes to the interview, your potential employer can just box check that you have a business degree or qualification and get on with talking about their golf swing.
Being white and middle class, it took me quite a while to personally experience prejudice. And it was golf-related prejudice in the end. I came to work one morning and found out that every other male team member had been golfing with my client that weekend and I had known nothing about it. None of them are gay, of course. But it was “golf” rather than “heteros only” day. And the client signed the deal. This is where discrimination hides; somewhere -if not unknowing- then at least accidental. (In fact, it was only the girls on the team that noticed that this was discriminatory. But they weren’t invited, either.)
Yes, the world really is this horrible. You can’t change it so you can either use it or be a victim of it. Think of it like going hunting with the king. Hegemony was ever thus.
5. Work abroad, don’t travel
After three decades of a largely fraudulent “take a year off” industry, the world has finally realising that “spending a year abroad” is classist bollocks. It’s just the Grand Tour but decidedly less grand.
But working abroad is different. ESL experience, for instance, is genuinely valued in the workplace because it demonstrates a capacity to work under pressure and successfully deal with people who have different backgrounds to you. Plus it’s a very good personality indicator. (You’re less likely to be an asshole. ‘Culture fit’ is the most important thing to demonstrate in an interview.)
One of my previously mentioned mentors was an ESL teacher in Taiwan for two years. Then, when he returned to the UK he sold cushion covers in markets in North Wales for another two years -living with a friend in their van, touring about the country, surviving on whatever they sold.
Any business wants that kind of initiative. When he returned to London he got a job with MTV.
Conclusion: Become invincible
Why not try for a job somewhere that will pay you to get qualified? This isn’t a scam. Even KPMG does it.
Note that this isn’t just an option available to recent school leavers. That’s the whole point. This will always be an option for you. By and large, further education is always an option. However, when you are young you tend to confuse the experience of being young with going to college.
They’re not the same. You’ll still drink till you vomit, make some terrible sexual choices and live in a really crappy house with a thousand of your closest friends whether you are studying or not.
The worlds of work and money are being seriously disrupted right now. This is what I would say to anyone of any age who is considering re-training at the moment. It’s not a very good time to be investing both your debt and your faith in the tertiary education system. You cannot educate yourself out of the apocalypse.
These disruptions are making you vincible. Only you can make yourself invincible. The answers aren’t external. No one out there has a map. No one. There are no degrees in “surviving the global economic collapse”. It’s like panic-buying gold. People don’t know what to do so they’re scrambling to stockpile more qualifications.
This is the crisis that Warren Buffett doesn’t want you to waste. In a funny way, crises level the playing field. Success, right now, is yours for the taking.
Here, again, let’s end with the Sun Tzu:
Of old the skilled first made themselves invincible to await
the enemy’s vincibility.
Invincibility lies in oneself.
Vincibility lies in the enemy.
Thus, the skilled can make themselves invincible.
They cannot cause the enemy’s vincibility.
Thus it is said, “Victory can be known. It cannot be made.”