There’s a major problem in the structure of today’s companies. It’s not in every industry, but it’s in enough to be a cause for concern. At least if you’re in the group of us that aren’t looking to retire in the next 10 years.
For much of history, workers regularly sought apprenticeships as a way to create a career for themselves and provide for their families. Early apprentices would often work under a mentor for years (sometimes as many as 10) trading their labor for shelter and the opportunity to master their chosen craft. When the Industrial Revolution came to America in the mid 1800s, apprenticeship took a major hit. Instead of learning the art of tailoring, someone could just learn how to operate a sewing machine. It took much less time to train someone, employees produced in much higher quantities, and, most importantly, it was cheaper.
Fast forward to now, there are few, if any professions where you are given mentorship. In recent years, we tried the unpaid internship, but those rarely taught the interns anything more than how to enter data into an Excel sheet. Something they probably learned in high school if they’re under the age of 30.
In the “big” professions — medicine, science, law — they have programs that emulate apprenticeships because these industries require skill and understanding that you can’t learn in school or through a two-week training course. The rest of us are screwed out of learning opportunities.
What’s available to us is “exposure” through long hours of thankless work and finding more answers through YouTube tutorials than our mentors. Those in senior management are seriously dropping the ball by not taking every opportunity to teach the younger generation the correct way. We’ve gone from direct, personalized instruction to the apprentices teaching each other. Where are the mentors in any of it?
Tim Tebow is an American football player whose name you will hear in every conversation about the best college football players of all time. He won the Heisman Trophy, two National Championships at the University of Florida and he’s one of the most decorated players in college football history. The guy had everything going for him.
Except that, technically, he wasn’t a great quarterback. At least not one that was going to succeed in the NFL. He released the ball too low and he ran too often. Against college defenses, he was fine because he was faster than them. But against professional linemen, he’d get eaten alive.
Analysts said time and time again that Tebow would have to dramatically change his throwing and playing style if he wanted to make it as a professional football player. NFL coaches, and even his own Florida coaches knew he’d have to change. But, he was winning for Florida. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it, right?
Tebow ended up spending an entire off season in Nashville, Tennessee trying to correct in a few months what should have been corrected over the four years he was in college. And although he did get picked in the first round of the NFL Draft, he only ended up playing in 35 games in 5 years, some of those games only a few snaps. Now, he’s trying his hand at professional baseball — a game he hasn’t played seriously since high school.
Now, I’m not saying the responsibility for Tebow’s failure as a professional football player rests solely on the shoulders of his coaches at the University of Florida. They’re an organization that needs to win to make money, recruit new players and build their brand. But, I am saying that it’s a very easy metaphor for what’s going on around the country to the 23 to 35 year olds in the work force — no one is actually looking to try to help you grow. In a production based workforce, the people in charge are more concerned with whether or not the bottom line was met than they are with how anyone got there.
The end justifies the means is not a phrase we should be using while talking about the skillset of an entire generation of workers.
At this point, young American employees are overworked, underpaid and convinced that the job market is so sparse that helping another person get better at their craft is a direct threat to their own stability. It’s hard enough to fight against an imaginary technology villain who can probably do your job better than you, no one’s going to voluntarily create competition for themselves.
Except that’s the whole game. Everyone should want to be getting better. Every mentor should demand that the people under him or her is getting better, not just getting stuff done. Because look what’s happening to each industry.
Marketing is reduced to Google Analytics and Facebook Algorithms that no one can explain. Teachers are reduced to standardized tests. And writers are reduced to completely bonkers headlines and articles that have no journalistic integrity. We’ve created complete jokes out of entire professions because somewhere along the way, we decided mentoring the younger generations isn't worth the time.
And look, I get it, us Millennials can’t make up our minds. Senior management doesn’t know how long any of us are going to stick around. We could decide to make a major career change next week. You don’t have time to coddle to our every feeling. Except that your buy in is the only way to guarantee our buy in.
Older generations have checked out just as much as the younger generations of workers. We can read all your articles on how impossible it is to manage Millennials. We know you don’t think we’re all that valuable.
A lot of us joined the job force at the worst time possible. From 2007 to 2013, we were constantly told that there are no jobs. A lot of us were (and still operate from a feeling of being) terrified by that. We want a steady job where we constantly get better and smarter. We want to make ourselves irreplaceable to your company. We will work harder, with more drive and curiosity than necessary because we don’t want to be the one who doesn’t have a job. We can apply all of that to your company, but only if we get people who are smarter and more experienced to show us how.
We'll never return to an apprenticeship model in the workforce, but it's not too late to get buy in from both sides. It’s not impossible for upper management to start investing in the growth of it’s young professionals. And it’s not too late for young professionals to show some enthusiasm for the cause.
Upper management needs to understand what their employees are doing on a project basis. Take the time to know, even if for only five minutes, where your employee is on the spectrum of skills your industry requires. Invest in them by giving them actionable items on a quarterly basis. Yearly reviews won’t cut it anymore. Find out how you can integrate teachable moments into your workday — daily or weekly. Really, just act like you care about the success and growth of your employees.
And to all the fellow Millennials — for those five minutes where a member of upper management is taking some time to show you what years of experience has taught them, just shut up and listen. You can do it your way on your own time. In that moment, learn from the people who came before you.
Because, really, isn’t it embarrassing enough for Tim Tebow to have to try out for baseball? We can’t let that happen to the rest of us.