Working with the youth of today!

The last few days have added a final piece to a train of thought about working with the youth of today that I felt it important to share.

It all starts with a quote that will be all too familiar to most, either because it sums up your view of our current younger generation, or because you are that younger generation and you hear it all too often.  The quote, which I first came across while on an MOD Instructors’ course in 2007 is succinct and accurate as you can see:

“The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.”

When the quote popped up on a PowerPoint slide, all the students on the course were invited to name its author.  While clearly relevant to modern youth we realised it was going to be a little older than that and so the answers started to work back in time past Margaret Thatcher, Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln and even Shakespeare.  It is an interesting piece to consider, especially when we reflect on just how often the older generation takes that view of its youth.  I think it’s fair to say that none of us in the room could have anticipated just how long old people have been so disparaging of the young.  The quote is from that great Greek philosopher Socrates, who lived between 469 and 399 BC.  Proving once again that there is nothing new under the sun.

The second line of thinking is linked to the cover of a copy of Soldier magazine from March 2010.  When I joined the Royal Navy in 1988, the future held global travel for diplomacy, the possibility of embargo operations and a very limited chance of seeing anything more dangerous than a rough sea.  By 2010 the situation was very different.  Joining any arm of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces carried the very real possibility of deploying to a significant conflict zone and a high risk of injury or worse.  Many of the old timers repeated comments similar to the Socrates quote, deriding the modern serviceman as somehow inferior to their predecessors.  I never bought in to that and still don’t; volunteering at any time during the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns took greater courage and commitment than during the cold war and repeated tours of duty required far greater resilience than a 6 month deployment to the Caribbean, Middle East or South Atlantic, or tour of duty in Northern Ireland, Germany or Cyprus.

Bringing my thoughts much more up to date leads to February 2016 when we became involved with students at the Business School of the University of Plymouth.  As a company, 28Quest was invited to propose topics for groups of 1st year business students to research as part of a module on enterprise.  We identified 3 subjects that would support the business and all 3 were allocated to groups of students who would work on a market survey, website design and use of social media.  We met with each group at least once, 1 group twice and communicated via email.  At the end of the project we received reports summarising their work and findings and were able to feedback to the university about the experience of working with the students and the value of their work.  Although we didn’t agree with everything that was produced, the process was rewarding and challenging in equal measure and we gained new insights in to how we can move the business forward.  They were able to think differently, and arguably more creatively, than we were doing at the time and the results have proved incredibly useful.

The final thoughts are completely up to date and linked to our involvement in the “You’re Hired” competition aimed at 17 year old students from a wide range of Plymouth’s schools.  It is run along the lines of The Apprentice meets Dragons’ Den and aims to identify the most employable 17 year old in Plymouth as the overall winner as well as for a number of distinct categories such as Best Future Accountant, Best Future Engineer and Best Future Entrepreneur.  Following a series of heats held in schools across the catchment area and a preparation workshop, the finalists come together at the University of Plymouth for the 2 day final.  Arriving at 8.00 am on day one they faced a series of challenges working together as newly formed teams, including a purchasing challenge

DSCN0670and the creation of a new physical product and a service or non-physical product.  It was never meant to be easy and there was no let up during the presentations either, with some challenging questions from the “Dragons”.  Overall the standard was high with all of the students acquitting themselves well and making for some tough decisions during the judging.  Reviewing all the winners later revealed that no school had a monopoly and that the vast majority of the schools that took part contributed at least one winner.  For me that shows 2 specific points; the schools are doing a great job of preparing our youth for their futures and the young students involved are making the most of all the opportunities they are given.

So what do all these separate thoughts mean when they are put together?  For me it’s about taking some time to challenge how we think about the younger generation.  Socrates’ quote proves that just because the older generation are grumpy about the youth (they always have been and probably always will) doesn’t mean it is right.  It is also about the courage that our current youth need to cope with the ever changing world and the ever increasing challenges they face in their lives.  It is about the fresh perspective that they bring to any issue, and their willingness to engage on thingsthey think could be better and finally it is about just how impressive they can be when people give them a platform, an opportunity and some support.

Working with the youth of today?  Quite frankly, why wouldn’t you?

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