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Gen Ys – educate yourselves!


Jack Delosa, one of Anthill’s 2009 30under30 winners, begins a new series today about Gen Y and entrepreneurship. In this first column, he takes aim at an education system that is inadequate for 21st Century, leaving his generation with a reputation for preferring Facebook and playtime to hard yakka.

The traditional career path doesn’t work for a lot of Gen Ys because our current education system is not geared to adequately prepare us for a career in the 21st century.

A report from the Australian Department of Education says that one in five university students will drop out of their course in the first year. It is suggested that for every student that drops out, another two students are reluctantly doing the absolute bare minimum.

Right now, Gen Ys are largely disengaged in their studies and their careers. A recent Employee Engagement Report* shows that four in five employees are not engaged in their jobs, with two in five being classified as “actively disengaged”. The view of many large businesses is that we’re producing a generation of clock-watchers who would rather Facebook their friends than contribute to the commercial well-being of their company. I disagree. They also say that we don’t do what we’re told. I agree – we’re a generation that do what we love.

The top ten in-demand jobs in 2010 did not exist in 2004. This means that the current education system is trying to prepare student for jobs that don’t exist. On top of this, it is projected that Gen Ys will have 10-14 jobs by the age of 38, of which only a very few will have relevance to what they studied. This enhances the need to broaden our education.

For Gen Ys to have any job security, we need to stop relying on the current education system to provide us with the preparation required to be successful in today’s workforce. It’s just not happening. The education system was designed in the nineteen hundreds. The world has been changing at an accelerated rate and the bureaucratic structure of universities has not been able to keep up. Nor have their curriculums.

This is not to say that Gen Ys shouldn’t go to university, often having a degree in a certain field can open up opportunities that would have otherwise been difficult to pursue. This is especially true when your field of choice demands that you have the piece of paper, which is especially true for doctors, lawyers and vets, to name a few.

I recently caught up with Domenic Carosa, who floated his company Destra on the Australian Stock Exchange in 2001 at the age of 25, becoming Australia’s youngest ever CEO. Domenic went on to build Destra into a $100m p.a. revenue business, with many of his companies being recognised as BRW Fast Starters. Over coffee, Domenic refers to himself “a university drop out” and explains to me that the most effective way to advance a career is by getting real-world experience. “Knowledge that is implemented is significantly more powerful than the knowledge alone,” he said.

What this means is that we as Gen Ys need to start taking more ownership over our professional development and not rely solely on a degree to get us where we want to go. Gen Ys need to start looking outside the walls of our universities if we want to be competitive in today’s marketplace.

I recently brought on an intern to come into our business and help us in liaising with different media companies. Michelle attends the University Technology of Sydney (UTS) and is in her final year of a Bachelor of Business. About a month in, I asked Michelle in private why she had applied for the position even though she had two other paid part-time jobs. She said, “I realised I was learning all this theory and didn’t have an application for it. It wasn’t until I stepped into the real world that things started to make sense.”

It was obvious to me that Michelle was never at university to pass a test. She was there to build a career. Those Gen Ys that start to think about how they can develop their career outside of the walls of their university will be a valuable commodity in the years to come.

Ways you can start to think outside the walls:

  • Apply for internships with companies you believe you can learn from. The experience and knowledge gained from investing a small amount of time will significantly accelerate your career path. In exchange for your work, ask your employer for a shining reference.
  • Join industry associations. Most developed industries have associations that hold events and seminars. This is a great way to meet the right people and start to build your network. This proactive approach may put you in touch with several potential employers.
  • Find a mentor. There are people already doing what you want to do. When people who have enjoyed some success are approached for help, they are often very generous with their time. These people will be your most effective source of knowledge throughout your career.
  • Read. It is said that if you read 20 books on your subject, you own that subject. Rather than sticking to academic text books, branch out and start learning directly from the people who have been successful in your field. Relevant magazines and websites will also be useful.
  • Go to seminars. Attend industry events and seminars and start to build your knowledge outside of the usual curriculums. This is also a great way to meet people and demonstrate that you have a proactive approach to your career.

Jack Delosa is the General Manager of Teldar Media. He has personally been involved in over $1.8m in capital raisings. He was recently named in the top 30 entrepreneurs under 30, in the Anthill Magazine 30under30 Awards. Jack also sits on the board of Shift International, Australia’s leading personal development organisation for teens. He is a regular contributor for thinkBIG Magazine.

*Employee Engagement Report done by Towers Perrin