x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Real-life experience gives our children a solid foundation

Women, money and style: Education and employment are still the great empowerers.

As parents, we all have high hopes for our children with a solid education ensuring their successful, prosperous futures. But should those expectations include them following the paths that we have chosen - attending university, getting a degree and securing a fulfilling job?

A friend of mine - the father of children attending an elite United Kingdom private school - was recently caught off guard on the topic of university fees. "They're free, aren't they?" he asked, casually. He was flabbergasted to hear that tertiary education is no longer free of charge in the UK, but also that most British graduates typically end up with debts of more than £50,000 (Dh288,000).

As a mother myself, I understand this dilemma. We all want the very best education for our kids, but do we do this at the cost of a lifetime of exorbitant, crippling debt? It helps to remember that the game has changed considerably since most parents with college-age children entered the job market. Today, holding a university degree does not automatically equal wealth.

Many of my friends who did apprenticeships in Australia are now millionaires. Compare them to other friends who spent countless years at university, studying to become doctors and scientists, only to be left with years of university debt to pay off.

A recent article in The Economist certainly gave me a reality check on the status of the global youthquake. You only have to hear the names Zuckerberg or Facebook to realise that the future is a different playing field from my days at university. But what is the global reality for our children - generation next?

In The Economist piece, the following stood out:

• 26 million people in developed countries between the ages of 15 and 24 years are not in any sort of job or schooling - that's a rise of 30 per cent since 2007.

• A survey from the World Bank estimates that 262 million young people in emerging markets are not earning any money. The total number of unemployed young people around the world is close to 311 million - about five million less than the population of the United States.

• And according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, people who left school earlier were twice as likely to remain unemployed than those with university degrees.

So how do we prepare our children for an uncertain financial landscape?

It seems education and employment are still the great empowerers. As Margaret Thatcher rightly said in 1984: "Young people ought not to be idle. It is very bad for them." The key to successful employment, though, is not the number of years that students are educated, but rather the content of their studies and on-the-job experience.

Technology and science are two fields that are thriving thanks to cooperation between companies and tertiary institutions, offering vocational training and apprenticeships to give students paid work experience.

But while the economy may be constantly fluctuating, hope remains. Yes, unemployment in much of the world may be on the rise, but with the increasing backing of government and companies in the private sector, the youth are in with a fighting chance.

While every generation lives in different times, the lesson I have taken from this is that today we need to start thinking differently about Generation Next. Our children will require a lot more than merely the skills to be employed; they also need a solid financial education and on-the-job experience.

I have said before that teaching teenagers to think for themselves and stand on their own feet will be our greatest test. As a parent, I question if we are fully providing these opportunities.

What are we doing to ensure our kids have the street smarts for life? What part-time job opportunities are there? I am not just talking about the work experience required in school, such as internships. What I am talking about is a real after-school job, one that has set work hours and comes with a pay cheque. Many parents will argue that their children don't have the time because of all their schoolwork - and in the UAE there is the added issue of work visas.

Well, the reality is that part-time jobs could be the best real-life study of all. If they could learn the value of earning a dollar or a dirham - or any currency - they would learn life skills that would set them up for the future.

I certainly don't want my children starting their lives in debt. Regardless of which field they may choose to study, let's give them a foundation to build upon. One thing is for sure - I have high hopes for Generation Next. Do you?


Janelle Malone is a wealth commentator, writer and author. You can read her blog at www.womenmoneyandstyle.com