The Myth of the Modern Knowledge Worker, Part 4: Kids These Days

I’m not old, nor very far removed from recent college graduates. A significant difference between my peer group and recent graduates is “work ethic”. In conversations with my age-similar colleagues, we all observe pretty much the same thing: Recent grads don’t want to work, it’s just “what’s next”. The same generation that really only went to college because that was “what’s next” after secondary education, unsurprisingly has the same view on the workplace. There’s no pride in their work. There’s little-to-no ambition to go above-and-beyond. Work is there to provide the financial means to allow them to continue their uninspired, path-of-least-resistance “lives”. For the most part, a recent graduate’s first job out of college IS their first job- The first time they’ve ever been faced with real responsibility, and the necessity of providing for themselves. They don’t want to work. They have to work.

P2Opt1: Academia doesn’t help this. I work in “Higher Education”, and I network with colleagues throughout industry and academia: All of which say the same thing on both sides of the coin. Those in academia are clamoring that their students are unambitious and are in “need” of being sandboxed, lest an entire generation of students flunk to the standards of those that came before them. Those in industry, who hire recent graduates, are underwhelmed by the ho-hum, excitementless, droll emo attitude of their new employees: Employees who are barely competent in fundamentals that the employer needs them to have- and that they allegedly do have on paper- but that’s been disposed of. Yup, they had to take a networking course to get their Computer Science degree, but they still don’t know network speeds are measured in bits and not bytes, and as such a 1GB file should not take only 1 second to transfer over a 1Gb network connection. *headdesk* *headdesk* *headdesk* I’m used to CS students thinking there’s something “wrong” with our network because of mismath like this, but your employer shouldn’t have to deal with such incompetency.

P2Opt2: Academia doesn’t help this. I work at a “publicly-funded” four-year liberal arts school (that gets less per-student public funds than the “privately funded” four-year tech school across the river, mind you), but have commiserated with colleagues at private schools, specialized schools, trade schools, etc. – all of which are exasperated at our collective inability to instill real values into the students. “Higher Education” is constantly being dumbed-down to accommodate the “modern student”: More online learning, less stringent attendance policies, higher retake caps, complete bypassing of experiential education requirements, and fluffy brainless requirements for final projects and theses.

Not only are faculty being forced to not use red pens lest it hurt the students’ feelings, but completely failing graduation requirements still allows you to graduate. We had a student in recent years who did their “required-to-graduate final project” in our department- Not only were we underwhelmed when the student had “no idea” what they wanted to do for a project (this was in an interdepartmental meeting set up specifically to accommodate the fact that this student had to graduate in May, and hadn’t worked out anything yet), but the project was never even really attempted AND the student stole the computer that we loaned him to work on (it was “returned” some time later, after a public shaming). This student was still allowed to graduate. According to colleagues at some private schools, it’s just as bad or “worse, if you count the kids of Board members who have free reign to terrorize the community”.

Students today want a free lunch. They don’t want to really learn. They want to put in the time, get a pat on the back, and get on to “what’s next” – only to find out that they don’t really want that either. Academia is doing a disservice by catering to the lackadaisical desires of underachievers by reinforcing their self-centric attitudes and certifying them in the hopes that they’ll iron it out someday.

Fail students who underperform.

Don’t allow people who flagrantly disregard graduation requirements to graduate.

Use your red pen.

Make us new knowledge workers.

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