Answering Why: Unleashing Passion, Purpose, and Performance in Younger Generations

Answering Why: Unleashing Passion, Purpose, and Performance in Younger Generations

by Mark C. Perna


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Bridge the Gap and Reach the Why Generation 

If you've ever struggled to motivate the young people in your sphere of influence, Answering Why is the game-changer you've been looking for. From the urgent skills gap crisis to the proven strategies to inspire our youngest generations, Answering Why addresses the burning questions faced by educators, employers, and parents everywhere.

Author, CEO, and generational expert Mark C. Perna shares his wide experience and profound success as both a single dad and performance consultant for education and workforce development across North America. Readers will be empowered to:

• Embrace the branch-creak crisis moments of life
• Make meaningful, productive connections with the Why Generation (anyone under 40 today)
• Bring relevance, self-discovery, and passion to the learning process

​The Why Generation is asking a serious question, and it’s time to answer it. This book will help awaken the incredible potential of young people everywhere and spur them to increased performance on all fronts, so they can make a bigger difference—which is exactly what they want. 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781626345119
Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group Press
Publication date: 09/18/2018
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 205,508
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Mark C. Perna is the founder and CEO of TFS in Cleveland, Ohio, a full-service strategic communications and consulting firm whose mission is to share and support every client’s desire to make a difference.

Mark, a graduate of John Carroll University, has many years of experience addressing industry leaders on the topic of expanding their reach in an increasingly global marketplace. As an international expert on Generations Y and Z, Mark has devoted his career to empowering educators and employers to unleash the tremendous potential of today’s young people, both in the classroom and on the job.

After successfully parenting two Millennials as a single father, Mark has become a passionate advocate for bridging the generational divides that are contributing to America’s profound skills gap. Parents, schools, districts, businesses, and state organizations of all sizes across North America have successfully used Mark’s insights and strategies to connect more effectively with the younger generations.

In his work with educational and business organizations, Mark has pioneered many best practices for achieving more with today’s young people, including the TFS Education with Purpose® philosophy and highly popular Career Tree® strategy, among others. Mark is frequently cited as the national expert in education enrollment, retention, and performance. 

A dynamic and motivational public speaker, Mark frequently delivers keynote speeches at national and statewide events and spoke at Harvard University by special invitation. His genuine personality and warm sense of humor make him a fun and memorable communicator that people connect with immediately. He regularly addresses both small groups and massive crowds in his capacity as a generational and performance expert, reaching thousands of educators, employers, parents, and young people each year with his powerful message of change and empowerment. 

Read an Excerpt


Closing the Skills Gap

A few years ago, when I was invited to speak at a Pathways to Prosperity workforce development conference at Harvard University, I discovered a piece of the answer to why there are millions of unfilled positions in the United States alongside millions of people seeking employment. The invitation-only conference focused on closing America's expanding gap between what skills employers need and what skills employees possess. Attendees at the conference included high-level statewide education teams of K–12 superintendents, chancellors of community college systems, business and industry executives from Fortune 100 companies, and Departments of Education and Labor personnel. About 400 individuals were invited, but over 600 showed up — an indication of the tremendous concern that business and education leaders are experiencing over this issue. For them, the branch is creaking loudly and clearly.

The reason for the conference was simple: employers are becoming desperate for a skilled workforce that possesses the hard and soft skills needed to thrive in their businesses. Hard skills are those actual hands-on skills needed to do the job, while soft skills (or the phrase I use in this book and in my work as a term of art, Professional Skills) are necessary life and people skills — communicating properly, showing up on time, working a full day, problem solving, taking on leadership roles, and many others. As I've stated earlier, there are millions of people in America who are out of work, and there are also millions of jobs that go unfilled in this country because of a lack of skilled workers. This is the ever-expanding skills gap. It is occurring because our culture has such a long-established love affair with going to college that we are doubling down as a nation to get more and more people into college even though college is not delivering those critical hard skills and Professional Skills needed to make our economy work.

According to a recent study from Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce, by 2025 the United States will be short 11 million certificate holders and degree holders to support the economy. Getting their students into college is currently the main focus of almost every high school in America — as if mere college attendance is the ultimate goal. But so many college students fail to finish the degree they set out to achieve. Not only that, but the job market today is no longer built solely on college-degreed positions. As technology evolves, workers with specialized industry certifications and licenses are in greater demand than ever.

That's a message that is near and dear to Dr. Kevin Fleming, a scholar, speaker, and entrepreneur who is the creative force behind the wildly popular video entitled "Success in the New Economy." "We have an oversaturation of people with degrees but who also have no tangible skills," Kevin told me. "And I speak from personal experience as someone who is well educated but who didn't have the skills to do anything." In his video, Kevin frames this paradox this way:

The true ratio of jobs in our economy is 1:2:7. For every occupation that requires a master's degree or more, two professional jobs require a university degree, and there are over half a dozen jobs requiring a one-year certificate or two-year degree; and each of these technicians are in very high-skilled areas that are in great demand. This ratio is fundamental to all industries. It was the same in 1950, the same in 1990, and will be the same in 2030. The hope for encouraging university education is that as the number of university-trained workers increases, the demand for their services in the workplace will increase as well. Unfortunately, this is not so. The whole pie may get bigger as the labor force and the economy grows, but the ratio will not change. The reality is there will not be more professional jobs available within the labor market. And some professional jobs have been replaced by technology, or are being outsourced.

While Kevin says he didn't invent the 1:2:7 ratio, he describes it as brilliant in its simplicity and ability to communicate the problems we are creating by pushing young people to obtain degrees while simultaneously ignoring the importance of also acquiring valuable work skills. Kevin points to one example where, during the Occupy Wall Street protests that occurred around the country in 2009, the national news featured one young person who wanted the government to forgive the student loans he had taken out to pursue a master's degree in puppetry. "He was angry because he couldn't get a job," Kevin told me. "I admire him for pursuing his dream. But should we really expect the government to subsidize his degree? I think the bigger point is how crucial it is for our students and their parents to become smarter consumers of education."

We need to change the expectation and educational paradigm in America that college is the only career pathway promoted to our young people. It's not that Kevin and I are against college. The point is that college for all is not the answer to our pressing skills gap crisis. There are many high-paying, high-skilled careers that require a specialized industry credential or certification, not a college degree. As a nation, we need to help students discover what they love to do and how to achieve their dream — whatever that dream is.

To accomplish this we must prioritize career development exploration and education as an integral part of the K–12 system. Higher education is remarkably expensive, and yet many students head off to college without a clear plan of what they would like to do with their lives. The year 2016 was the 18th consecutive year in which Americans' education debt rose. No other form of household debt has increased at this rate.

As I've said, I am a huge fan of going to college. I did it myself. The Awareness Gap that we battle today is the assumption that college is the only path a young person can take to create a successful life. In addition, we don't do a good enough job of informing our young people about the pitfalls they may face when they go to college. We should want them to choose college as a clearly defined step toward their career attainment — not because everyone else is going, not because they think they cannot succeed without a degree, and not because they view college as the place where they figure out their life direction. College is a great postsecondary option — if your career path requires it. Too many people today go just to go — often failing to finish their course of study, missing out on profitable career paths that require specialized postsecondary but not university training, and increasing our nation's student-loan default rate.

One of the central questions discussed at the Harvard conference I attended was this: how do we move the country away from the belief that everyone has to go to a four-year university to be a successful and productive citizen? (Yes, it's ironic that this urgent question was being addressed in a university setting.) As I've said, getting their students into college is currently a primary goal of almost every high school in the United States — as if college admission itself is the goal. And this trend only seems to be growing: 81 percent of the younger members of the Why Generation believe a college education is necessary for a good career, and it is estimated that one in two of them will become university educated. For context, just 25 percent of Gen Xers, the generation preceding the millennials, have a college degree. As part of my remarks that day at Harvard, I talked about the phrase college and career ready that has taken hold nationwide. The challenge I see with this statement is that no one notices the word and between the words college and career. It is really understood as college career ready — as if college is always the first step in becoming career ready.

I believe we have missed the point. Shouldn't the ultimate goal be to prepare all students to be career ready? We have put our focus in the wrong place. Instead, preparing all students to be career ready should mean that students choosing a career requiring a four-year university degree should attend a four-year baccalaureate program. Students interested in a career requiring a two-year associate degree should take that path. Students wanting to pursue a career in any other area should work toward the certifications, licensures, and apprenticeships needed to succeed in their chosen field. Lots of training options are available, so let students choose the direction and follow the pathway needed to achieve their "want-to" goals in life. It seems like common sense, doesn't it?

"We decided that every kid needed to fit a cookie-cutter mold and that they needed to go to university," says Michelle Martinez, a lifelong public school teacher. "If you talk to any parent, what they want for their kid is to go to college and get a good job. That's the message we sold them. But as public educators, we need to reteach the message that there are other options available. We need to show kids their expanded opportunities."

There must also be a living-wage job or career waiting for a young person at the end of that pathway — regardless of the pathway they have chosen. For example, far too many students finish a degree and only then discover that they can't get a job in that field (like the young man mentioned earlier who attained a master's degree in puppetry). They need to understand that simply picking a career direction, college, or any other option isn't enough; the outcome must be viable and sustainable — especially if they acquire significant debt along the way.

To remedy this Awareness Gap, we need to prioritize career development exploration and education as part of the K–12 system. The rising cost of higher education has become crippling to many families and young people today. Despite the cost, we continue to urge students to go to college, even if they don't have a clear idea of what discipline and career field they want to pursue. "We do career exploration at the highest dollar amount possible, and it's called university," says Paul Galbenski, a Teacher of the Year in the state of Michigan who now runs an Oakland County Public Schools technical campus outside of Detroit. "And there's no guarantee attached to getting a degree. The result is that today's young people face crushing debt."

What's more, the number of college students who actually complete their degree is remarkably poor in the United States — by some reports, as low as 50 percent. Some industry experts believe that figure may be far lower. We have taught young people that their ultimate goal is to get into college rather than make the most of their time in school.

It's like when you watch the 100-meter dash at the Olympics. Men and women have trained for years, maybe even most of their lives, for this one moment. With the crack of the gun they're off, running as fast as they can until they cross the tape. Most runners then begin to slow gradually to a walk down the track, their energy expending. But some runners give it everything they have just as they cross the finish line and crumple into a heap on the ground, completely spent. I think our young people today approach getting into college the second way: once they cross the finish line, they stop cold because they think they have completed their goal. They don't keep training for what comes next.

And the challenges don't end there. More than 50 percent of the people who do complete their degree are either unemployed or significantly underemployed; that is, they are not making a wage commensurate with their education. These students either chose a field of study where no jobs were available or they didn't develop the Professional Skills they needed to land a job of their choice. This is a wakeup call. Simply pushing more students into college is not the answer to closing the skills gap or solving the critical needs of business and industry in America. According to Galbenski, "We've been on this message of sending kids to college for so long that we have gutted the career programs that used to exist in middle school. Kids today just don't know what other paths might be available to them. We need to get back to the point where everyone has a chance to see what options are available — which are limitless."

Another damaging aspect of the college-only mindset is the outcome for young people who aren't ready or able to go to college after high school. What happens to them? That's a question that Jimmy Greene, the CEO of Associated Builders and Contractors, Greater Michigan Chapter, is asking. As someone whose job it is to advocate for skilled trade jobs, Greene admittedly walks a fine line: "I'm never trying to discourage kids from going to college, but when we have the entire education system pushing kids to university and community college, they're forgetting something. While they might be celebrating the fact that 60 percent of their kids go on to college, what happens to the other 40 percent? We have somehow forgotten them."

Greene knows it wasn't bad intent that caused the system to overlook the kids not headed to college, especially in rural and inner-city areas where college is not the norm for many families. But what opportunities are those students being given to become productive citizens and taxpayers? Do they even know there are great, living-wage careers they can pursue that don't require them to go to college? Can't we arm these young people with real skills earlier in life so they can succeed whether they go to college or not? If we don't, how can we expect them to land meaningful employment? "The skills gap was bound to happen," says Greene. "How could it not have?"

Eye-Opening Insights from Fortune 100 Executives

Over lunch at the Harvard conference, I sat at a round table with four Fortune 100 senior executives. Two were from advanced manufacturers, one represented an agricultural company, and another was from the computer industry. (It just so happened that a U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education and a U.S. Assistant Secretary of Labor were also sitting at the table.) We had a dynamic conversation about building a skilled and well-trained workforce in America. The group asked a lot of questions about how I help schools across the country enroll and retain more of the right students, in the right programs, for the right reasons. They were fascinated that there was a company focused on increasing graduation rates with career-focused students and were quick to note the similarities between what I am able to accomplish with my clients and what they are trying to accomplish on national and global scales. In essence, they are trying to do the same thing: recruit and retain more of the right employees, in the right positions, for the right reasons. This quickly became our common ground and the foundation for a remarkably interesting dialogue.

As we discussed the growing skills gap in the United States, one of the manufacturing executives mentioned an anticipated company hire of 15,000 to 20,000 employees over the coming 24 to 36 months. This company is a high-tech global manufacturer with facilities worldwide. Manufacturing, the executive told us, is different today than it was many years ago. Their facilities are the cleanest, brightest, most sophisticated, advanced manufacturing sites you can imagine. He said you can eat off the floor of any of their plants — literally. He went on to say that the advanced equipment and modern facilities were something to see, far different than what people envision. These were high-tech, high-skilled, and high-wage jobs in these advanced manufacturing plants.

He then explained how the workforce has changed over the past five years — not even a decade or two. Just five years ago, there were three distinct groups of labor his company would hire: high skilled, medium skilled, and low skilled. As few as five years ago, low-skilled laborers and support personnel made up a significant portion of the workforce. Today that percentage has dwindled to almost nothing due to the expanded use of advanced technology, robotics, and streamlined manufacturing processes, all of which are necessary to compete in a global marketplace. It is the high-skilled and medium-skilled jobs that they need to fill in order to stay competitive. As a result, there is less and less opportunity for low-skilled workers.

This executive then looked across the table and put both hands out directly in front of him, as if showing us the size of a fish he had caught. His palms were roughly two feet apart as he said, "Mark, this is the entire spectrum of the 15,000 to 20,000 people we have to hire over the next 24 to 36 months. Do you know how many of these people need a college degree?" I thought for a moment and said, "I don't know." He then slapped his hands together — which really grabbed my attention — and then edged his hands apart until they were almost touching, with only a sliver of space between them. "This many. Mark, we need the rest of this entire spectrum to accomplish our goals. We need high-skilled individuals we can train to operate, calibrate, and maintain many hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of equipment." In his view, the unfortunate place at which we find ourselves is that we as a society view those who go to a four-year university as high achievers, and we view those who attend a career center, a vocational training program, or a community or technical college as being somehow lesser. Yet our workforce is starving for people who have developed the hands-on skills, work history, and experiences that come with certifications, apprenticeships, licensures, and career training programs — not necessarily just college. A degree may not be nearly enough on its own, without a skill or experience, to land someone a job anymore. This point was then echoed by each of the other executives at the lunch.


Excerpted from "Answering Why"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Mark C. Perna.
Excerpted by permission of Greenleaf Book Group Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Section One: Focus on the Challenge,
Chapter One: Closing the Skills Gap,
Chapter Two: Overcoming Generational Rifts,
Chapter Three: Getting to Know the Why Generation,
Section Two: Plan for Exceptional Performance,
Chapter Four: Why the Why Generation Doesn't Hear the Branch Creaking,
Chapter Five: Finding the Light at the End of the Tunnel,
Chapter Six: Bridging the Awareness Gap,
Chapter Seven: Building a Competitive Advantage,
Section Three: Take Action on the Plan,
Chapter Eight: Education with Purpose; Employment with Passion,
Chapter Nine: Strategies and Tools to Connect and Empower,
Conclusion: The Wade Factor,
About the Author,

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