Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Cuba is always great for a vacation but what about for education?

Hitting the white sandy beaches and listening to the sultry beat of Cuban mambo music is always a good vacation idea.  The people, the festivals, the excitement; it is all there.  But if you are going to be a serious student, do you really have time to take a vacation,  hit up the local art scene and soak up the local culture?  No, of course not.  You are going to buckle down in that 5’ x 5’ dorm room of yours with 60 lbs of textbooks and study material and the messy roommate who leaves dirty socks everywhere for the next 6 months.  You are a serious student and that is what serious students do.  Right?


A recent article from the The Chronicle of Higher Education by Lacey Johnson stated that “many employers believe colleges aren’t adequately preparing students for jobs” and that students need to start making a “distinction between getting skills and getting an education.”  One is not enough.  People need to do both.

It is a common complaint circling the water cooler if in fact you are one of the fortunate few who have managed to find employment and therefore have a water cooler to stand around.  Our parents told us to go out and get an education and everything would fall into place.  Well, mom and dad lied.  They didn’t know they were lying so we won’t blame them entirely but the truth remains.  That crisp, crumple-free diploma you receive at the end of your education is only a piece of the puzzle.

Employers want people with on the job training.  They want tangible skills, references, and three to five years of industry related work experience.  To put it bluntly, they want proof that you are not completely useless.

So here is the problem, how do you get experience when no one will hire you?

The answer:  an internship.

Sounds obvious right?  Well, it kind of is to recent graduates and those going through college right now.  It is why every fresh faced student is out there offering up what basically boils down to free labour in exchange for three or four lines that they can put on a resume. 

And now arises the second issue.  Suddenly everyone has an internship listed on their resume and you get pushed right back down to the bottom of the pile because what you did, really wasn’t that interesting.

The new answer: an international internship.

You heard me.  An internship at a local newspaper looks great on your resume if you want to get into journalism.  But you know what looks even better?  An internship at a newspaper down in Havana where you not only learned the ins and outs of investigative reporting, but you also learned about international issues, cultivated a respect for another culture, practiced your Spanish, (hola seƱor) and picked up some pretty impressive salsa dance moves.

Think about it.  With technology ever closing the gap between overseas markets, it doesn’t matter whether you are in journalism, business, marketing, healthcare or education, the need for a global perspective is becoming a must along with that ever so popular thing employers require called workplace experience.  So get why don’t you get both?  Open your choices up beyond what the local economy is telling you is possible.

If you are interested in participating in an international internship, here are a few resources that you can check out:

International Career Studies:
Ministry of Education (Ontario):

Friday, 16 December 2011

An Introduction of Sorts

For my first blog entry, I just wanted to take the chance to say “howdy” and introduce myself to the online community or “blogosphere” if you are literate in or familiar with the funny words that people have created to identify certain online activities or places.  (Seriously though, who comes up with these things?)

The basics:  I am Mel, a former serial job seeker with a great interest in travel that was fortunate enough to land a position with a company that actually specializes in helping people 1) find jobs and 2) travel.  You are already spellbound I can tell and I haven’t even gotten to the exciting information about me yet, (I love peas).

Having been fortunate enough to land a job when so many others out there are finding it difficult, I wanted to offer my help and advice to those who are still searching for that ideal job or starting position.  I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am without taking the advice of people around me and I feel it is only right to pass along those tidbits of information to the remainder of the general population. 

This column will share interesting articles, guidelines, tips, and opportunities that are currently out there all in the hopes that you, yes you, will find something here of use in terms of getting ahead in your career field or furthering your education. 

Learning is encouraged.  No matter what stage of your life you are at, you should always be learning. However learning can be dull and nobody wants to sit in a classroom staring at the same four walls forever.  Classrooms do not represent the real world no matter how well instructors and teachers conduct their classes. 

Before the educators out there get ready to stone me to death, don’t get me wrong, I am a huge supporter of college/university/any type of formal education; I did four years of college myself and earned an advanced degree at the end of it all.  I am grateful for every day I was able to attend classes and learn the fundamentals of my industry.  I had great professors that used a combination of lectures, group activities, individual assignments, role play situations, videos, slideshows, webinars, you name it.  But at the end of my four years, as confident as I was feeling, those years in school were missing something critical and that was actual workplace experience.

When I started looking for a job, everyone wanted you to have at least 2-4 years of experience even for entry level positions.  I was convinced it was a grand conspiracy against me.  No one would hire me without workplace experience but because no one would hire me, I could not get workplace experience.  In an era where employers want employees to be able to do more but are spending less time on training, it is no wonder that the common complaint among businesses is that there are no skilled workers to be found. 

Unfortunately, I don’t see the system changing anytime soon since as you know, managers can be pretty stubborn and set in their ways.  I did find a way around the system though.

Be an intern.

It basically amounts to offering to work for free in a lot of cases (think slave labour but with much better workplace safety and anti-harassment policies) though some people are lucky enough to find paid internship positions depending on their industry.  The way I viewed it however was that I was getting something much more valuable back.  I was being paid not with money, but with hands-on, workplace experience that was tangible and could be put on a resume.  The financial pay-off would come later down the road but after graduation, it was a way to get my foot in the door and that was the key. 

The only thing I regret with my education and the path that I took was that I did not take more time to explore and travel.  Maybe you are like me and haven’t ventured outside of your own state/province very often or maybe you have and it was such an addicting thrill that the thought of being forced to stay in one place for too long is depressing.  I wish I had known what I know now that I didn’t have to sacrifice the chance to travel for the chance to learn.

Do the research.  There are dozens of educational travel programs out there.  Whether it is an international internship, an exchange program, educational tourism that takes place over the course of a few days or weeks, there is something out there for my fellow jet setter wannabes that can actually advance your career and add a little bit of interest to your resume.