School's Out

As school finishes up for another year and the graduating class of 2013 prepare to embark upon their future pathways, Social Researcher Jeff Gilling explores one the noticeable observed traits amongst many school leavers the past ten years – and how it has come about.  


The world does not owe you a living. It owes you an apology.

As a social researcher, studying the demographic, social and technological shifts that are shaping our changing world, one social change in particular has been most apparent to me.

Over the past decade, social researchers have observed one troubling change amongst school leavers and university graduates.

They have called it the confidence – competence gap.

The confidence – competence gap refers to the situation observed right across the country – which I have heard from many different employer groups – professions, the trades – where new entrants to the workplace display tendencies to already “know it all” – they have a level of misplaced confidence in their ability and an ill befitting and unhealthy sense of entitlement.

It’s all very well for employers in frustration to bemoan this new reality but it is important, I believe, not to simply criticise without first seeking to understand.

So, how has this come about?

When you peel back the onion, dig a little deeper and explore what are likely contributors to this social outcome, two contributory underlying trends become apparent.

1. Overprotection

Over the course of the past 25 years we’ve become a nation of helicopter parents, gently hovering over you, our children, in an overly-protectionist fashion to do our best to ensure you come to no harm. This is not a trend confined to Australia, by the way. In Scandinavia and North America it’s referred to as “Curling Parenting” – a reference to the winter sport of curling where a large stone is pushed along the ice track and two sweepers in front vigorously sweep the path ahead, removing any obstacles to ensure the stone glides smoothly along the pathway towards its intended destination.

Author Brene Brown ( has said there is a sense of underlying hopelessness amongst many young people today because most have never known adversity. I hope this is not you. Perhaps somewhat counter-intuitively, there is strength to be gained from experiencing the vicissitudes of life.

So my message to you is this: Do not be afraid of tough times. Do not be afraid of tough times coming your way. For as it is in the fiery furnace the steel is shaped and its strength revealed, so it is in life that in tough times your character will be strengthened and revealed.

2. Reward without Effort

From a really early age as children you’ve been rewarded with certificates for anything from “Great work tidying up” to simply “Great job for turning up”! This truly is only a very slight exaggeration. Perhaps the best example is the children’s party game, Pass the Parcel. It used to be there was *shock horror* just ONE prize under the final layer and Mr (or Mrs) Music carefully coordinated the timing between music and parcel movement, taking careful note how many wrappers had been torn away – to ensure the parcel landed in the lap of the birthday subject in time for the final wrapper to be removed, revealing the…packet of stickers! I am a twin so the event was repeated a second time!

But how many prizes are there today? One under every layer. That’s right, today every player gets a prize. But you need to know: life is not like that. In life, every player does not get a prize simply for showing up.

The prizes go to those who are prepared to roll up their sleeves, get stuck in and put their talents and skills to worthwhile endeavour. In short, to those who are prepared to work, to be productive and achieve the desired results.

So, as you reach this most important juncture of your life, transitioning from life at school to life after school, and you embark on whatever future pathways you choose, if you have been shielded from all adversity and if you’ve been taught (or learned) it is possible to have reward without effort, I say sorry.­

I wish you well and I encourage you to be bold and of good courage, be resilient, be considerate of others, be enthusiastic and have high goals, but do temper your sense of entitlement.

Importantly, if your academic results are not what you had expected or hoped for and you do not gain entry to a course that you had your heart set on, do not worry and do not be discouraged. Though it may be hard to, please understand this: Life actually has a way of working itself out.
Above all, seek to do something fulfilling with your life for it is when the work you are doing is in accord with your personal values that you will find that which we all are ultimately striving for: a sense of personal achievement and inner peace.

This article appears in the first issue of the eMagazine, which launches this week. The website and eMagazine is a new initiative to provide resources for parents, teachers and students to assist students to best make the transition from life at school to life after school.