Instilling Work Ethic: Teaching Responsibility, Hard Work and
Wise Decision Making
“…smart and talented and driven, yes, but also anxious, timid, and lost.” These are the words retired Yale professor William Deresiewicz uses to describe the modern college graduate in his best-selling book, “Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to Meaningful Life.”
The majority of college graduates step into the workforce with all the skills necessary, but lack the ethic that once described the American workforce. Their academic accomplishments are impressive, but their character, work ethic and sense of purpose is stunted.
This is something I see begin to take root in elementary school and establish itself by the end of high school. So the question begs to be asked, how can we better instill work ethic?
Prioritize personal growth over grades.
How do you respond when you see a poor grade from your child? Many parents will become angry or threaten to take away extracurriculars until their grades have improved. The intention is good. You want to see your child succeed and you know they can. However, by enforcing house arrest, you are missing the opportunity to teach them to be self-driven and to encourage them in their learning process.
Ask them how they feel about their grades. Do they think they did their best? How do they think they could do better? You may learn that they are struggling to understand or retain the material, they cannot hear the teacher most of the class or the student next to them is a distraction. These are all issues that spending extra time studying may not be able to fix and may be part of a learning problem.
In the end, you may need to reduce activities if a lack of time is the issue, but this should not be the first consequence.
Encourage high school students to work.
In an effort to groom students for the best colleges, parents often exempt their kids from working. Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska proposes that this is one factor that has reduced “Yankee ingenuity” and “rugged individualism” in the work place. In his book, “The Vanishing American Adult,” he talks about making kids “suffer.” He asserts that “neither our children nor your children will grow up to be free, independent, self-respecting adults if we hand them everything without the expectation of something in return.”
Having work experience prior to college will also help them post-college in landing a job. A common misconception graduates have is that they will get their dream job straight out of college and without prior work experience. Because of this, they refuse to take “lesser” jobs, which could actually prove to be a stepping stone.
Of course, college debt does have a hand in this. Student loans tend to dictate how much an individual needs to bring in to make loan payments, which brings me to my next point…
Consider college courses in high school or alternatives to college.
For students considering taking AP classes in high school, I recommend enrolling in classes at a community college instead. The classes are free and the experience exposes students to a college environment – something that looks great on college applications. While passing an AP exam is an achievement, acceptable scores vary between schools. In addition, AP exams cost money.
Speaking of money, college is expensive, too expensive if you are not sure what you want to do or if you even want to continue your education. Little mention is given to four-year college alternatives. Community colleges, trade schools, and apprenticeships are options that feed people into jobs that are actually in need of more workers.
I’d be happy to discuss this subject with you in more detail. Please contact me if you have questions!