The curse of soft graduates

Recently Louise Phelan, the head of PayPal here in Ireland, a business employing 1,600 people in Dundalk, who created an additional 1,000 positions in February of this year, spoke candidly about her perception of Irish graduates. Barry Whelan is inclined to agree with her



22 April 2013

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In an interview published in The Irish Independent, Louise Phelan said that Irish graduates come out of college with ‘a sense of entitlement’ and don’t realise the reality of the jobs market, with over 14% unemployment. Whilst she was at pains to point out that this does not apply to all graduates and indeed PayPal has employed some outstanding graduates, she felt that apart from a sense of entitlement, Irish graduates don’t understand how to carry themselves in the workplace, whether it comes down to how they dress (no tie!) or indeed how they sit (feet on desk!) and that they were not willing to learn. 

There were three things from this interview that really stood out for me. Phelan said firstly that graduates were lacking street smarts. She said that younger people seemed less likely to ‘get it’ than those who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s. Secondly that people expected promotion without reaching targets. "Everyone works hard but you can’t have a situation where someone misses their targets and then expects to be promoted," she said. Lastly she expressed concern that graduates are unprepared for the world of work.

Sense of entitlement

Is this the case, or just a broad generalisation? In my own experience we have found that certainly during the boom years, particularly from 2000-2007, graduates came on to the market with a sense of entitlement, and there was a good reason for it. It was driven by demand from the employment market. Generous salaries and work life balances were up for grabs. However, I also believe this sense of entitlement and lack of street smarts that Phelan speaks about was also primarily driven by parenting.
When we look at generational research in Ireland, more importantly at generation x (born between 1965-1977), generation y (born between 1978-1987) and generation z (born between 1988- 1998), generation y research talks about an environment where children were raised in an ‘everybody gets a trophy’ culture, a culture where everyone is a winner and kids are rewarded not just for winning, but for ‘best effort’, because parents insisted on positive childhood experiences where nobody ‘got left out’.


Lack of work experience


Research also points to two income more affluent families where money was more available to put a child through education, funding not only their education, but the lifestyle that came along with it. This meant a lack of work experience gained through part time, mainly, retail employment, which had previously afforded generations of Irish kids an understanding of hard work, discipline and the value of money. Surely, there is no better learning curve than your part time job in the local supermarket or convenience store whilst at school and college. The discipline learnt working in this type of organised, fast paced environment along with the ‘street smarts’ developed from working in such an environment, surely stand to you, along with a real appreciation of the value of money.

In life we all know, not everyone is a winner. Success takes lots of hard work, discipline and street smarts. I wonder are we doing our children an injustice by raising them to believe otherwise. 



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