Don’t Call Them Kiddos

This push to pass theoretical assessments, when young adults should be receiving tactical training in business has placed abnormal stress on students.

I once worked with a global corporation whose cost to re-educate their workers was an astounding $90 million spent annually on learning and development suppliers. That is an astronomical amount to create corporate “universities”; that many companies pay for employee professional development. That was the smoking gun that forced me to consider transitioning into the world of academics. Teaching the upcoming workforce became the new purpose after leaving my role as a marketing executive in the workforce management/staffing/human resources industry.

After obtaining several college degrees, and multiple awards for outstanding achievement in my field, I ventured into my new role as college professor with more credentials than the authors of the textbooks in the syllabus. My well-rounded offerings – of academics and practical experience – should have offered my students a much sounder learning foundation. Also, I could offer them valuable information on what employers are seeking to land good jobs after graduation.

Learning challenges faced by students

However, modern students face learning challenges – that in the beginning – I struggled to understand. So, I applied my market research skills treating my students as focus groups where, for six years, I collected my own primary qualitative data.

Like other professors, I covered everything in the book, and added my own experiences as case studies.Then, I had my students write reflection papers which  forced them to use real world examples aligning key terms, and my stories of practical application examples.

I learned that most students are too distracted by modern life and not taught discipline over their thoughts. Yet how could they? We are all still coping with the constant bombardment of insidious technological noise compared with nature’s quiet rhythm of centuries past. Resulting in poor listening skills that fail to appreciate stories – as an oral culture – or what we now call “case studies”.

To help my students understand the value of these business stories, outside a textbook, I put to a vote how to approach a ‘listening education’. They could read a 50-page business case study and write a two-thousand-word paper, OR they could listen to my business and consumer stories as case studies. The vote result was always 100% to listen to my case studies but only to avoid reading and writing.

And that was my ‘ah ha’. Not all students are interested in the work of learning but just trying to “pass the class”. Why? They were taught ‘get the diploma to secure a good job’ not place value in knowledge. The scarcity of degrees in the past, does not exist today where degrees are common. Plus, they are a corporate requirement (even entry level positions) because of HR’s alliance with academics.


I also observed the modern generations as the most heavily marketed demographic unlike past generations. The invasiveness of companies using traditional and now digital media is epic and laser targeted. As a professor, without using fashion, entertainment, or sports examples, I struggled to hold their attention. Why? Since its real emergence in the 1960s, companies have spent billions – even trillions – of marketing dollars grooming and targeting the younger demographics.

So, I pivoted to introduce the familiar. I used Lady Gaga’s ‘before and after’ transformation – from a marketing lens – and boy did I get their attention! Formerly unmotivated students became a group of avid class participants. I didn’t immediately recite the syllabus on the first day.. Instead, I showed the 2015 Steve Jobs’ Stanford commencement speech highlighting his ‘connecting the dots’ story as a way of inspiring students to gain knowledge. This tactic often garnered applause from my students.

So, connecting dots of our educational system, as business’ feeder pool, would be to admit that it is profoundly broken. Colleges are now acting as capitalized for-profit organizations listening more to students and government rather than businesses. Evidence of this is two-fold with the overwhelming number of college graduates who state they’ve learned more on the job than they did in school, plus the rising costs the afore mentioned companies incur to re-educate college graduates.

As an interdisciplinarian with both an MBA and a Master of Education, I can confidently point to the answer in foundational differences between training and education.


Education is designed to incrementally elevate a student’s theoretical knowledge in broad topic areas. Students also receive human developmental education for understanding, reason, rationality, including social skills such as kindness, honesty, and critical thinking. By contrast, training is designed for skill specific training to teach specific tasks that are tactile rather than theoretical. Training most often occurs on-the-job training and is the core of the ancient and modern training practice of teaching through apprenticeship.

The disengagement of the previously combined education and training – in a young adult’s life – is what I believe has contributed to the current educational chaos. There is no better descriptor than the term parents and educators use for students in junior and high school – ‘kiddos’.

There is a timeframe in a young adult’s life where hard work should be used in conjunction with theoretical knowledge. Instead, modern parenting and education keeps them trapped as children, who are brilliant, yet practical knowledge stunted. They’ve learned to be good test takers yet still try to take the easy path out of doing the work of gaining knowledge. Is it any wonder how they’ve mastered the art of test taking? Their primary function in junior and high school is preparing and taking standardized tests that yield higher dollars – for a school’s benefit – not their own.

This push to pass theoretical assessments, at a time when young adults should be receiving tactical training in business has placed abnormal stress on students. Many of whom no longer want to attend college, and those who do, leave college my what they learned when belittled in companies for what they do not know, practically.

Rather than continuing to teach within a broken system, I have shifted my career focus to address these problems, choosing to be part of the reinvention of an old solution rather than remaining part of the modern problem.

Amy Keely
Amy J. Keely. MBA, M.Ed. Ph.D. ABD is an inter-disciplinarian with a wide variety of specialty areas. She is an award-winning marketer, generational workforce management expert, motivational and expert guest speaker, professor, and artist-philosopher. She is a published author and offers a variety of educational master classes, and online training. This article has been edited by Cheryl Zee. Please visit HunterHennessy Education YouTube Channel and Amy Keely’s public site at Amy’s consulting and educational site is