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Give High School Grads a Chance

Give High School Grads a Chance

by Frank Roche on August 29, 2007

in Careers

There are no entry level jobs anymore.

My friend Rich M. said that to me at least 13 years ago. He was talking about the idea that a person could start out at the bottom with a high school diploma and work his way up. That’s how it used to be in the old days. That’s how it was in his family and in mine. But, to paraphrase Dylan, the times were a-changin’.

It hasn’t been that many years ago that having a college degree wasn’t a yawn. The number of college graduates in the U.S. rose 40% between 1993 and 2003. Rich was right — there are no entry level jobs if “everyone” has a college degree. A bachelor’s degree these days seems to be about the equivalent of a high school diploma from back when I started working.

So where does that leave the talented high school graduate? Stuck.

Do You Have to Be a College Graduate to Be Smart?
What do Thomas Edison, Sir Richard Branson, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs have in common? They didn’t graduate from college. In fact, Edison never even went to school beyond age 12, and Branson wasn’t far behind that. If one of this group was applying for a non-exempt job at your company back when he was first starting out, would you hire him today? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say, “No. I wouldn’t give their resume a second look.”

I wrote yesterday about what a motivated employee can do to get my business, and it made me think about how many talented people we leave out of the work mix because they never graduated from college.

Look, I’m not advocating anti-intellectualism. I have a master’s degree in journalism and mass communication that has helped me a lot. (But I was the first in my family to graduate high school. Most assuredly the first to graduate from college. And it wasn’t easy. But back then there were entry level jobs.) I’m saying there are some really great people out there, who, because of their circumstances — family, money expectations, wanderlust — didn’t go to college. And we have a chance to change their trajectory. It’s about pay and potential. The most recent Census Bureau pay statistics show a disarming disparity:

In 2002, average earnings by highest level of education were: for those with advanced degrees, $72,824; for bachelor’s degree-holders, $51,194; for high school graduates, $27,280; and for nongraduates, $18,826.

A Corporate Challenge — Give One High School Grad a Chance
What would it take for each of the Fortune 500 to let ONE high school graduate into their non-exempt ranks each year? Just one? Actively do a search and publicize it. Make it known that they really care about attitude and aptitude and willingness. That there might just be the Next American Business Idol out there, and they’re looking for that person. Just one.

Imagine what could happen: Certainly 500 lives would be changed. And the lives of 500 families would be changed. Five hundred great and talented people would get their chance to grab the brass ring.

Would it work? I don’t know. But I do know I’m going to think about what this might mean to company recruiting and the messages they send out. Is it that you have to be part of the “the club”? Or is it that we want people with talent?

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