Review: Answering Why

answering why

Answering WhyMark C. Perna. Austin: Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2018.

Summary: Argues that behind the skills gap between unfilled jobs and Why Generation job-seekers is an awareness gap about possible careers that fails to answer the “why” question.

Mark Perna thinks we are at a “branch creak” moment, where employers struggle to find people with requisite skills to fill critical positions while Generation Y and Z youth often have no clear idea of what they want to pursue as a career and end up racking huge college debts. One of the problems he observes across industries is the 1:2:7 ratio in which there is one job requiring a masters degree or higher to two requiring a bachelor’s degree and seven that require technical training and certification that may be completed in a year or two, often through internships, apprenticeships, or while working in entry level roles.

As the title suggests, the critical failure Perna sees is one of failing to answer “why” work, and why the requisite courses and other preparation is necessary. He argues that this generation needs to “see the Light at the End of the Tunnel” and if they do, and it connects to things they care about, they will work hard to pursue their goal.

What this translates into is career education that begins as early as middle school that helps students become aware of different careers, as well as alternatives to college, which Perna believes is often presented as the only path to career “success.” In Perna’s work with school systems and employers, he overcomes the awareness gap through the use of the Career Tree. It has three levels for each career field: entry-level careers, technical careers accessed via associate degrees, certification, or experience, and professional careers most often accessed via a bachelor’s or other specialized training. Students often research these trees, including the “roots” of academics, experiences, professional skills and passions that position them to reach their own “leaf”–the career they find attractive. In the process, they come to their own answers to the why question, and what it takes to pursue their passion.

Employers can do this as well, mapping the Career Tree in their business or industry which Perna believes creates Employment with Passion, a planning culture that offers young employees a better understanding of the opportunities for growth in an organization and how to pursue them.

I found myself getting pretty excited as I read this book. I have watched too many college students incur debt, and graduate students pursue rabbit holes, because they lacked clear ideas of what they cared about, what a job doing what they cared about looked like, and what the best way to pursue that job was. Too often, they were doing “the next thing” encouraged by parents and the colleges themselves. I’m also keenly aware of the scramble to find qualified workers in many skilled positions. It just makes sense that one of the most critical pieces of education is career education–youth just do not come by this instinctively, any more than they do calculus.

Whether or not schools and employers use Perna’s training and materials (which I thought quite clear), his challenges and insights ought to be front-burner material for everyone concerned–most of all students and parents. The branch is creaking.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.


One thought on “Review: Answering Why

  1. Pingback: The Month in Reviews: September 2018 | Bob on Books

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