Thursday, June 4, 2009

Don't be a solicitor

New opinion pieces from me in the Evening Herald...

By Susan Daly

There is a lame old joke that says teenagers are world experts in any subject they don't have to sit as an exam.

The reality is that teens rarely feel like masters of the universe. And for the Leaving Cert class of 2009, the world is a more uncertain place than ever before.

It has been several long years since a generation of secondary school students faced graduating into such a volatile world.

In the 1980s and into the early 1990s, the twin spectres of unemployment and emigration loomed outside the school gates.

Going to college was an option that merely delayed the inevitable -- that all skills and qualifications were for export.


Such a brain drain could happen again, we are warned.

Already it is clear that the current crop of third-level students will have few jobs waiting for them when they graduate.

This has been a sobering thought for the Leaving Certs filling out their CAO/CAS forms this year.

What do you choose to study when the only place your degree certificate might be appreciated is on the wall of your parents' sitting room?

Actually, there is something to be said for not having your future decided by the demands of the marketplace.

Two newly-qualified solicitors of my acquaintance were worrying last week about the fact all their hard work in college, at Blackhall Place, and as trainees at law firms for a pittance -- 'devilling' as the practice is known -- might have been in vain.

There are no openings for them in this new climate.

The irony, as they see it, is that they only got into law because, at the height of the boom, it seemed like a career path lined with fortune and security. They are not even sure they like the job itself all that much.

If there is one lesson the Class of 2009 could take from them, it is this: Don't apply for a course just because it might end in a secure job. Do something because you love it.

That way, no matter what the state of the workplace when you finally graduate, you will never resent the time you spent getting there.


Studying subjects that lead into a course or trade you are interested in makes the Leaving Cert seem much less onerous.

The exam that, as adults, we look back on as unnecessarily stressful has been especially so in recent years.

The pressure teenagers were under to get points for jobs that were seen as desirable -- but not necessarily the jobs of their dreams -- led to an unsustainable round of grind schools, tutors, and extra financial and emotional stress for the family.

Children were struggling through higher mathematics, or languages, or two science subjects, without necessarily having the aptitude for them, because they were entry routes to "careers with status".

There is no point claiming that the cold wind blowing in on the job front won't cause sleepless nights for teens -- but it is important that they know the outlook is not bleak.

My sister finished school in 1989 -- she was one of the few of her age in her area to stay in Ireland, at least initially. Five years later, as I sat my Leaving, the economic climate was giving hints of a silver lining.

But, having watched my sister's generation decimated no matter what course of action they took, I decided to just go with what I liked and hope for the best.

I did not think to get into a course that might ride the crest of the coming wave. I have never made pots of money -- but I have been happy to potter along doing something I'm passionate about.

I hope the same for the Class of 2009, so that even if the river of prosperity is slow to rise again, they will always be paddling their own canoe.

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