Graduates are Responsible for Their Career Outcomes, Not Universities

Do you know one of the easiest ways to piss me off? Exhibit external locus of control traits*. Blame anyone and anything else for your failure, and I will no longer respect your opinion. Wow, I don’t make statements like that much, I’m so hesitant of possibly alienating others. But that is one core tenet of my world view – I am all about personal accountability. And so with this background, I proclaim:

Graduates are responsible for their career outcomes, not universities.
Please refer to point 2 of the illustration to the right with the catchphrase “No one ever taught me how to write a goddamn cover letter!” to which I reply, “Yeah buddy, that was your responsibility.”

My apologies to Richard (@HRManNZ) and Amanda (@Sterling_Amanda) for my over-the-top passionate response to their musings on a young HR Pro’s opinion that he was not prepared for his job by university. You can see the storify of our conversation here and the original article here.

The idea that universities should prepare graduates to actually perform their job is absurd. We’ve got the purpose of our educational institutions all fucked up. The skills we need to do a job come with experience, not theory. That’s the main difference between vocational education (i.e. trade schools) and university. While you are learning at a vocational institute you are experiencing that skill. Uni, however, is about learning how to learn that skill, and you generally have to finish the learning before you can actually practice the skill. And when we get to practicing that skill in an office, do you know what we meet? Budgets, timelines, personalities, public images, feelings and conditions of service. All that crap that takes a beautiful theory, steps on it, takes a dump on it, rains on it, picks it up and asks “do you still hold up?” It’s no wonder that in a graduate’s first six months of their ‘real job’, they feel overwhelmed and underprepared. They go into the game thinking they know the rules, but are missing the skills to play. That’s not anyone’s fault though, that’s simply graduates lacking experience.

I had the big-education-doubt about 4 months into my first managerial position. I emailed one of my professors and anxiety-attacked “do I need to do my Masters, did my Bachelors actually teach me anything?” He honestly said that my Bachelors should give me everything I need until I get to the point of requiring an MBA. His advice has proven very accurate so far. I had gotten exactly what I needed – I learnt to think like a graduate and can research, prove/disprove and argue accordingly.

However, if you’re really keen on making the university to work transition smoother, then I suggest:
  • attending networking events;
  • gaining industry experience;
  • reading industry journals;
  • participating in industry online forums;
  • holding down a (any) steady job; and
  • being prepared to use nothing you have actually produced in your study, but knowing how to produce similar quality work on any topic thrown at you.

And if you are 100% sure you are not getting what you need from your degree, you have three options of:
  1. dropping out of tertiary education;
  2. staying at the university and capitalising on the brand name of your school; or
  3. changing universities.

University students are purchasing a product, be it training or association with a brand name. They are not purchasing personality traits like initiative, humility, or drive. So don’t expect that when you graduate, and don’t expect it from your graduate employee. The only difference between a graduate with 1 year of work experience and a non-graduate with 1 year of work experience is that the graduate has learnt to argue about their area of study really well – it’s up to their individual personalities to differentiate who can actually do the job.
Btw, if you’re wondering how I can be employed in HR, and write about HR – here‘s my explanation.

*On a side note – did you go to that linked article? I had a good chuckle at “A downside of an internal locus of control is that, in accepting responsibility, the person has to also accept blame for failures.” Is that really a downside, or could it be a good way to avoid a CEO of a bank still getting a bonus while the bank receives a taxpayer bailout?

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How I Got Into HR

I’ve been asked by many people about how I got into HR and how I ended up in Singapore. This first video is just me discussing what brought me to study HR, what I think my advantages were (one through my own effort and another by sheer luck), and how I ended up in my current job.
Of course, feel free to ask me more questions if you want to know something specific!
(My apologies for the dodgy editing – you wouldn’t believe how much I love the sound of my own voice and how much I needed to cut this down! I definitely require intense training on speaking succinctly.)

When I get older and richer, I’m going to rent more than a bedroom. I will then have fabulous backgrounds of a loungeroom or something equally more appropriate than my bed. On a more positive note though, the bed is the only asset item I own, so I guess it’s good to show off your prized possessions?
Btw, if you’re wondering how I can be employed in HR, and write about HR – here‘s my explanation.

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Has University Replaced Unions?

An article from Australia recently listed that “in August 1992, 43 per cent of male workers and 35 per cent of females were union members in their main jobs. The figure [in May 2012] is now 18 per cent for both male and female workers.” That’s a marked drop in union membership numbers, and it’s clear that the new generation of workers have even less interest in joining a union. Do we think our university qualifications have replaced the need for union representation?
Personally, I’ve just never known what the benefit was. I’ve worked in places where individual employment contracts were used, rather than a collective bargaining process. I have always perceived unions to be redundant for employees who hold degrees and aren’t public servants. I never knew what the benefit was.
Until I moved to Singapore.
Then it became very clear what the power of unions are. Because when they are effectively muted (i.e. Singapore’s ‘National Trades Union Congress’ is very good at running a supermarket chain, not so great at getting minimum wages for Singaporeans), workers are individualised and isolated completely. And it’s not like all the Singaporeans holding degrees are entering a better job market because of their qualifications. The absence of a minimum wage means the starting rate for a degree holder is bargain basement low.
Yes, there are very low participation rates in Australian unions. But they still hold power, and can create a voice that applies to employees who aren’t even in the union. No, I don’t agree that all union action is positive – I prefer people in jobs over meeting every principle of good employer/employee dynamics. But yes, I do attribute a lot of Australia’s workplace culture and rights to the work of unions.
A large number of qualified individuals may be effective at their jobs, but pretty useless at bargaining on a national level about their expectations of work life in general, unless they speak as an organised group. So although we may think we are powerful through our skill set, it’s clear to me that university most certainly hasn’t replaced the role of unions
Here’s to the minimum wage – it’s a bloody nice thing to have.
Btw, if you’re wondering how I can be employed in HR, and write about HR – here‘s my explanation.

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Some Free Advice From My HR Lecturer

“If you want a friend at work, get a dog.”

It’s great to be told by a university professor that your profession will be hated. It was one of the most honest things I was ever told as I prepared to enter this career.

And on particularly shitty days, the words still ring in my ears – “if you want a friend at work, get a dog.”

After a couple of years, I truly believe that HR isn’t the job to have if you need to be liked. And it’s certainly not the job to have if you fulfill your social needs through work. HR is for people to arrive at work, do a job, leave and live their life.

For free advice, it was actually pretty accurate.

Btw, if you’re wondering how I can be employed in HR, and write about HR – here‘s my explanation.

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