House Concerts for Mom and Dad?

In a recent study, TwentysomethingInc. found an alarming statistic.  Close to 85% of the graduating class of 2011 moved back in with mom and dad upon completion of their college degree.  A recent NPR story supports this statistic:

Today, only 55 percent of people ages 16 to 29 have a job — the lowest percentage since World War II. A quarter of people between ages 25 and 34 are living with their parents, and new numbers out this week say people under 35 are worth 68 percent less than they were 25 years ago.

Source: Educated And Jobless: What’s Next For Millennials?

These alarming statistics call for an exploration of different delivery models for career development at the collegiate level.  At the Colburn School, we’re having a deep discussion about the notion of the “Whole Musician” as one way to help students carve out a career for themselves.  This exploration involves developing a curricular model that deeply engages our students in their chosen career path and, by extension, provides more employment opportunities upon graduation.   I would argue that this is much the same type of career development discussion you might find in any number of disciplines (art, business, theatre, etc).

In light of the economic downturn, the contract between institutions of higher learning and their students, in many ways has been broken.  Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, thinks the system is so broken that he’s offering students funding not to attend college. (See the press release here) Last May, Thiel’s foundation awarded 24 people under the age of 20 $100k, mentorship, and further support to launch their own innovative, world-changing ideas.  It’s not just those of us in the arts that are trying to figure out the best path forward.

So, what do our conservatory students really need?  Beyond the ability to perform at the highest artistic level possible,  I believe the argument is more basic than any curricular initiative (advocacy, community engagement, entrepreneurship) we can push forward as an institution.  The Millennial generation literally has the world at their fingertips.  They are the first generation that has always had the internet as a resource and their sense of access to the world around them is profound.  This means our students need to develop a way to effectively harness the information that floods their lives.  For me, the best way to drive career development comes down to providing enhancement activities that draw out the following three intrinsic qualities:

  • Passion—The first question I always ask my students is this: “What are you passionate about?” It’s really quite amazing what a little reflection on this question will draw out in students.  Quite often I find that the surface level passions (performing, practicing, listening to great music) are a conduit for a deeper passion (family, friends, god, etc)  Being constantly in touch with what you are passionate about is absolutely essential to finding a lasting career path.  (For those of you reading this blog who are already in a career, is there a direct correlation to your job and the things your passionate about?) Interesting to think about.
  • Creativity—I love when I hear “Well, you play a musical instrument so you must be creative.” I’m not talking about being creative in the practice room, I’m talking about being creative in life.  Before my post at Colburn, I had the fortune of teaching a Creativity and Innovation course as part of the Entrepreneurship minor at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.  Over the course of the four years I taught the course, I found students to be incredibly reticent to the creative process as a tool for problem solving.  Indeed the same issue comes up with our Conservatory students.  I have a theory.  The students we’re currently working with—the ones that have had the internet at their fingertips—are the same students that grew up with the No Child Left Behind Act.  If our current students are a product of their environment, I don’t blame them for taking a largely non-creative approach to their lives because they’ve spent the past ten years filling in bubbles and, by and large haven’t been asked to think creatively about the world around them.  This needs to change.
  • Critical/Inquisitive Thinking—What if our students arrived on the first day of class and I handed each of them a piece of paper and asked them this question: “The Louisville Symphony has closed its doors for the season due to a number of deep organizational issues.  Working in a group of four students, you have fourteen weeks to develop a working, sustainable model for the Louisville Symphony.  Your final grade will depend on the effectiveness of the model that you present to a panel of evaluators at the end of the semester.  Please find attached a list of 20 industry leaders who are willing to answer questions you might have along the way.”  The issue isn’t that our students lack the ability to think critically, it’s because we’re not asking them to do so.  I’m convinced that those students that crave information and organize it in a way that furthers their opportunities for employment is an essential element to their success upon graduation. 

It’s quite difficult to deliver these qualities that are so personal and so intrinsic through a curriculum.  I believe career development needs to help students embark upon a personal journey that enables them to find their own career path.  No longer are traditional silos—perform/create, teach, administer—the only answer for our Millennial students.  In a highly competitive work environment, our students need skills that differentiate them from the rest of the pack.  In my world, that means having the above intrinsic qualities before you even step foot in a classroom.  I believe my role at Colburn is to serve up student-led, action-based learning opportunities for our students that will help draw out those intrinsic qualities listed above.

I am an eternal optimist.  The statistics you read at the beginning of this blog don’t represent a problem, they represent a huge opportunity for our incredibly passionate, creative and inquisitive Millennials to be change-makers.  The trick is to give this generation tools that will allow them to explore their role in the world around them.  Doing so will enable our students to find employment and, more importantly, empower them to bring a fresh voice to the profession.

How does this post fold into your vision of career development?

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