Learning by doing

Young graduates and the job market. That’s the subject of this magazine. What do the young expect? What do they have to offer to the entrepreneur, and vice versa? Does education adequately match the job market in the 21st century? To get to the point right away: I think the answer is simply NO. No, Dutch education does not match the Dutch job market properly. There are a number of factors causing this: the graduates themselves, with their not particularly realistic career planning, the government, the educational institutions, and – indeed – the business world.

People have been talking scathingly about ‘youngsters these days’ for decades. This often isn’t entirely unjustified, and that also goes for graduates entering the job market right now. Their problem can be summed up in one word: relevance. Not much of what happens is relevant for them. Because they already have it all. I call them the confetti generation, because they’d rather party if it were up to them. They’re rather shallow people and that’s reinforced by Twitter, the internet and mobile phones. As a result, they often pick their college subjects haphazardly. And once they’ve completed it, the job market poses demands they don’t find appealing and don’t want to invest energy in. Funny enough, many of them are filled to the brim with ambition, often inspired by a dream or someone else’s success. And yet they don’t properly realise that landing a posh job in the USA requires good English proficiency.

I’m being a bit harsh. There are exceptions in this generation too. Still, I think the lack of social interaction is a serious problem. This magazine is a quest of sorts, trying to answer the question whether society can put these people to use. Ultimately, companies need them badly. Their wide vision, their ability to think outside the box, their enthusiasm once they devote themselves to something. My position is that education, the government and business need to stimulate young people more to push their envelope. They should invest in the motivation and the education of the young in every aspect. Not just during their education, but also once they enter the job market. Because I can tell you one thing: starting employees are malleable. If you invest in them and they notice it, they’ll get that twinkle in their eyes. Just setting someone loose in a company doesn’t work. I always recommend setting up a good coaching programme: tell them how everything works in the company and what’s important to know. Paging through this magazine, you’ll notice this is common in the field of IT. That’s probably because that’s a relatively young field, where things are often discovered during the working process. Learning by doing.

Let’s take a step back. Let’s look at the quality of the educational programmes that prepare young people for the job market. The deflation of our education is a serious concern. More people are getting higher degrees with the same budget. I do not believe this produces reliable quality. I also hear too often about talented people leaving the Netherlands to join top notch universities elsewhere. Once they’re gone, you’ll never see these people again. And if there’s one thing our economy needs, it’s innovative, talented people.

I argue for stricter entrance criteria, higher tuition fees and lower student grants. It won’t make me popular with the students, but this is how colleges would get real talent. Meanwhile, the government should stop curtailing students with all sorts of rules, and grant them more freedom if they show an enterprising attitude. Currently, students who make too much money get lower student grants. This way, entrepreneurship is punished and nipped in the bud. Why be enterprising if, accounting for the lowering of your student grant, the amount at the bottom line is so small it’s not worth the effort of working for?

Furthermore, educational facilities should widen their array of subjects. At every level. Good plumbers are few and far between these days. Someone recently explained to me what the vocational training to become a plumber is like nowadays. There used to be eight levels of education for him to choose interns from. Now, he can choose from only one. For that reason, he created a training course himself. Now that’s market-oriented thinking. In IT, many enterprises have elaborate traineeships as well. In my companies, new employees are required to watch how their co-workers do things before they get to work themselves. We hand them the tools to be independent and enterprising, to develop their own ideas. Because that’s what you want. Our training programme constantly changes with the organisation. I believe each of my employees needs to be able to answer the questions: what is the company, who is the company, who are our customers, what are you like, who are your co-workers, and how do you combine all of this in what you do?

I believe very strongly in the power of an enterprising mindset and work ethic as a core quality of my employees. Whether they have their own business or not. I think of entrepreneurship as a set of skills everyone should develop. Enterprising employees can change the business world from inside.

Learning as you go isn’t suitable for every company, however. That’s why I think more should be done during the preliminary stage. I’d like to develop a training in Entrepreneurship. The only way to do that is by founding a training company, a company that sends students and staff out into the business world. This way, they will learn as they go and the training will pay for itself. Companies could play an important part in this. Instead of training staff during their working hours, they might hire students before they graduate. And they could directly invest in consultancy assignments. The money earned this way would go back to the training company. This would create a patronage system that also enables investing in effective teaching staff. And the students will have a work placement to go with their studies. Let them pick their own education and subjects. Let them negotiate their budget and if it goes wrong, that’ll be a learning experience too. That’s my final piece of advice to entrepreneurs too. The new generation of employees has little to no boundaries. They don’t like structuring, which has a paralysing effect. And yet, recruiters working for large companies are often careless with people who aren’t keeping up with the organisation’s pacing and who don’t automatically meet the standard requirements. They don’t pamper talent enough and barely provide any incentive for creativity. Moderation in all things, but leave the young some space. It works, you’ll see!

This column has been published in the IT-special of the magazine of the Dutch Chamber of Commerce (Kamer van Koophandel).

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