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They’re digital natives, many of whom have commanded an array of devices from iPads to smartphones from their early years.
Ireland’s latest army of college entrants is currently eagerly envisaging a whole new future. Hopefully they won’t follow the examples of some of their US counterparts whose over-involved parents have been interfering in their everyday college lives.
However, helicopter parenting isn’t just an American phenomenon. Lots of Irish mammies and daddies are also guilty of hovering over their offspring’s every spare minute, endlessly transporting them from A to B; doing their school projects; and practically sitting the Junior and Leaving Cert for them.
Recently a leading business woman bemoaned having to deal with pampered graduates who seemingly expected her to pick up where their parents left off. That’s why having a job while in college pays off - not just financially. For teenagers who spent their summer holiday mornings snoring while their hard-pressed parents slogged, it introduces the notion of a good work ethic. After years of getting everything handed to them on a plate, the effort involved in earning a crust can remove the scales from their eyes.
Going out and finding a job and finding a way to successfully combine it with college work and life shows great initiative, true grit, and multitasking ability. For some students it’s an absolute necessity but for others it’s a lifestyle choice.
One I heard of recently has opted to take on a part-time job as she wanted to live in the city centre rather than commute to Co. Meath. Her parents - who are in a position to fully fund her - agreed only if she made up the difference in cost.
While there are huge advantages to being tech savvy, the downside for some of today’s school-leavers is that so much of their interaction is online. Many barely know how to hold a phone conversation or engage in the ancient art of letter writing. Having a job forces them to leave their cocoons and develop social skills. They get the opportunity to mix with people of different ages and backgrounds as a team, gaining practical skills and making contacts.
As one CIT student, who has always worked during her time in college, told me: “I get to meet a whole new range of people outside my peer group, where the talk is usually just of the opposite sex and who pulled last Thursday night.”
Her part-time jobs, she said, have helped build her confidence and sense of independence. “It meant I have had to ask my parents for less money and got me up off the couch, away from reruns of Friends and the occasional episode of Family Guy. It has improved my time management skills; boosted my CV; and got me back to my home county of Laois to see family and friends more often than I probably would make it if I wasn’t working,” she told me.
The transition from third level to the workplace can be a rude awakening for some, particularly in the current competitive climate. Thankfully, the dreaded JobBridge scheme is under review, but the backdrop is still difficult.
However, low entry level earnings; workplace politics and the length of the working day all come as less of a shock when you’ve a bit of real life employment experience under your belt.
At least that’s what I’m telling my almost 16 year old who is doing a stint of voluntary work in our local theatre. He may think he’s tired after his half day’s toil but hopefully by the time he reaches college, he’ll be able to secure a little employment and be proud of every few euro he takes home.
Let’s cut to the quick. If you do the sums (and some of you or your children may well be studying maths in university) you could feasibly make three or four times as much moolah working on the conveyor belts of German’s manufacturing industry over the four-month break for summer as you could putting down occasional shifts on minimum wages in the aisles of our shopping centres over the winter.
Apart from earning a bit of pocket money, few students acquire useful skills from the time they spend working part-time jobs. Is there anything to be learnt that could be of use later in life from walking a city’s streets advertising for a retailer as a sandwich-board man? Because of automation, most of today’s menial jobs won’t exist in 20 years anyway. I know that’s the case for the jobs that were around in my student days in the 1990s. When was the last time you saw a petrol-pump attendant scurrying around the forecourt of a garage? Machines are taking the place of checkout girls.
Apart from coming up with, say, money for drink, a nightclub entry or a bus ticket, the reality is that students don’t need much money to get by. My memories of college are that I was always strapped for cash, but it didn’t cause any stress. You only really worry about lack of money when you need it to look after your own children or the bank is squeezing you for its monthly mortgage payments.
Sure you complain as a student about being broke but it doesn’t matter, ultimately, because everyone else in your circle is also living like the common people in Pulp’s song. Poor is a way of life, then. You’ve all taken that vow of poverty and joke about it while getting to lounge for hours on end over the dregs of a cup of coffee.
You have something more valuable — spare time, and lots of it. Time to fool around, sleep in (on your own or, if you’re lucky, alongside someone prettier than yourself), to watch daytime TV shows and comment on their inanity with your mates, or to goof around on a stage in the evening in some pretentious theatre production. Or if you’re sporty, the time to make a college intervarsity team, and the way elite sports have gone you need to devote any downtime from training, matches, and travel to rest, not to picking up glasses in a bar.
Apparently some students also have to study in university. Unless you’re lucky enough to be doing a vocational degree in something clear-cut like medicine or engineering, it doesn’t really matter what course you’re doing or how you apply yourself once you can muddle through and get some kind of degree at the end of it. You won’t learn how to be inventive, agreeable, tenacious, and dependable, the important skills in the jobs world, in a lecture hall.
So if you’re not cut out for carving up bodies or building bridges, the purpose of university isn’t about acquiring academic knowledge; it’s about having the space to find yourself, to make mistakes (in my case spending a season walking around campus in baggy Joe Bloggs pants, “the widest jeans in history”) and about making lifelong friends.
So if you’re about to enrol as a fresher, my advice to you is to make sure you enjoy this brief three- or four-year window of freedom and respite. Savour what many of us remember as “the best years of our life”. Don’t spoil it by wasting time canning food or the like for a lousy bit of coin.
The purpose of university isn’t about acquiring academic knowledge; it’s about having the space to find yourself
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