Trendspotting: A College Conundrum

A Major Upheaval

U.S. college students are encouraged to major in STEM fields to fill empty positions and rev the economy

When it comes to the American job market, or lack thereof, there are some troubling incongruities. For instance: Why, with 14 million people pounding the pavement looking for work, do 52 percent of U.S. employers report difficulty in filling critical positions within their organizations? It may be because too few workers are trained to do the jobs that most badly need doing—in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math), reportedly due to too many U.S. students choosing majors in the social sciences rather than STEM because they believe the workload will be lighter. As a result, the gap between the jobs prospective workers are prepared for and the ones for which they’re most needed continues to widen. In response, some politicians are lobbying to downsize university social-science departments in order to limit the number of psychology and anthropology majors. It’s a controversial stance, but a number of college students seem to be getting the message. The University of Tennessee just reported a 28 percent increase in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) degrees since 2005, while Florida Gulf Coast University has doubled its number of STEM graduates in the past two years. Paradoxically, one of the very things college students are being pressed to major in—technology—may be stealthily eliminating large quantities of jobs. By ratcheting up productivity in a big way, technology has made it possible for commodity workers to produce more and more units of output but be paid less and less for each item. Talk about bad business.

A Lost Generation?

As the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11 approaches, we remember those who died, we try to give voice to the collective emotions we felt then and still carry today, and we consider how the decade since the attacks has shaped us. But it is especially enlightening to realize what it all means to today’s 20-somethings, who were in elementary or junior high school in 2001.

When President Bush climbed atop a rubble pile at Ground Zero and said into a bullhorn, “…the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon,” he put into motion events that would change our nation and have implications far beyond our understanding at the time.

Less than 1 percent of Americans wear the uniform these days, according to a recent Wall Street Journal column. And yet, the influence of our warriors reverberates daily in their defense of our cherished freedoms, and especially in the hopes of today’s youth. It should go without saying—and regardless of political persuasion—that as a nation we feel a tremendous pride and thankfulness for the mission our men and women in uniform are carrying out.

The emotion is sincere and palpable. I’ve witnessed two recent small-town gatherings related to soldiers. One was in New Castle, Pa., where fire trucks, police and some 200 thunderous motorcycles from the War Dogs escorted a fallen soldier home. Citizens lined the street to pay heartfelt and solemn respects to the soldier who gave his life in Afghanistan. The second was in Lake Pleasant, N.Y., where a returning soldier received a standing ovation as he walked in a Fourth of July parade.

As I absorbed these powerfully patriotic moments, I couldn’t help but think about how Sept. 11, the resulting wars and the economic difficulties during the past 10 years have affected our youth and their approaching adulthood. In the aftermath, today’s 20-somethings experienced the coming together of their communities to help the terror attacks’ victims; bake sales and clothing drives were common. They watched as towns across the U.S. sent firefighters, police and emergency responders to help victims and clear the rubble at Ground Zero. The wars entered their homes through grainy green-hued footage captured with night-vision goggles and through 24/7 updates on YouTube. Soon, they would play such video games as Call of Duty, with amazingly realistic combat scenes. One recent high school graduate I know dreamily talked of becoming a member of the Navy SEAL team that killed Osama bin Laden. He’s a gamer, and though I can’t say for certain, I bet he used video games to assimilate the adrenaline rush of combat without feeling its physical wounds. We were at his graduation party, and when talked turned to his four years of college, his enthusiasm quickly faded.

Indeed, when the video game is over, his generation opens their bedroom doors to the reality of an economy and job market that is painfully unable to create employment opportunities. The national unemployment rate for 16- to 19-year-olds was 25.9 percent in 2010, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. For 20- to 24-year-olds, it stood at 15.5 percent.

These facts can make overcoming the anxious inertia of joblessness difficult. Shaped by the past 10 years of war, excellent marketing by recruiters, a sense of duty and a bit of desperation, young people might turn to the military to get experience and a good salary until the private-sector job market recovers. Yet the military isn’t the reliable source of employment it once was, as CNN recently reported. The Army and Marines are shrinking by design, with active-duty forces scheduled to be reduced by 22,000 and 15,000 next year.

A four-year-college graduate recently told me that he was going to join the military. I found out a few weeks later that the recruiters told him to come back in a few months—they were full. With debts and student loan time bombs ticking, jobless stress can be intense. Young people aren’t sure if things will turn out as planned. They might have classmates and friends at war in the Middle East, or some who have returned and are unable to deprogram from the immersion of combat—or those who don’t return alive.

If today’s young adults cannot find a way forward to gainful employment as a group, they face the risk of becoming a lost generation stunted by a tough economy and limited job prospects.

America’s youth is at a crossroads. Unlike any other generation, they must pick themselves up by the bootstraps and create their own work. But there is hope. Unable to find work, Generation Y members are starting their own businesses, according to Fast Company. The article cites a recent Young Entrepreneur Council survey that found that 21 percent of respondents started businesses because they were unemployed. It’s a cliché but true: Necessity is the mother of invention. If our youth can foster our nation’s historic and robust entrepreneurial spirit, they might just carry us out of the economic malaise from their bedrooms.

Photo credit: Flikr/ by eviltomthai

What Social Media Means for Beauty Brands

Originally posted on Euro RSCG Worldwide’s Social Life and Social Media blog.

Social media isn’t just a way for friends to stay in touch—smart PR professionals and marketers know that SoMe can be the answer to their prayers. Though beauty is the rare—and lucky—industry that may have bucked the trend of dwindling budgets (because women want to look good no matter how much the economy is suffering!), it still benefits resourceful pros to understand how employing social media in their strategies can have a great impact with a small budget.

We at Euro RSCG Worldwide PR engage in social media every day—for our company and for our clients. We know that the Web is not just important, it’s essential to reach consumers in today’s fully connected world. We embrace the opportunity to link up with people on such a micro level; anyone can follow any (or all) of us at ERWW PR on Twitter, either at the company level (@ERWWPR) or at the personal level; each of us at the agency is a citizen of Twitterville.

Beauty brands may have the most to gain from engaging in social media marketing in all its forms. In the real world, beauty products have long been at the center of social gatherings—BFFs help each other decide the right shade of eye shadow, mothers tell daughters which lipstick color looks best (and vice versa!), sisters help each other do their hair just so…and the list goes on. So when a beauty brand is able to tap into the strength of online bonds, it’s really hit the SoMe jackpot.

Girls (and women) can be intimidated by the prospect of seeking out advice and how-to tips in person. Mainstream fashion and beauty media outlets are already aware of the demand for these services; the clever marketer or PR pro will figure out a way to supply this need via social media. How-tos online in the privacy of one’s home, behind closed doors or with a trusted pal, can be just as good as that magazine page…or even better, since it has the benefit of being multidimensional (in other words, the real deal).

If you look at the places where social media stars and the championing of brands have intersected, you’ll often find beauty products to be the subject. Look at YouTube sensation Blair Fowler, known as Juicystar07: The 16-year-old shares her fashion and beauty expertise (and her shopping “hauls”) with 330,000 subscribers. Her YouTube channel has been viewed almost 18 million times, and she has appeared on “Good Morning America.” Her older sister, Elle (now 21), has another ultrapopular channel, allthatglitters21.

These girls have scored by leveraging the power of social media; but what PR and marketing professionals need to realize is that their brands have scored, as well. The number of YouTube videos of unwitting teen brand ambassadors is astounding—they plug products with on-brand messaging that could make a PR maven weep with joy. They’re using their 15 minutes of fame to advertise their favorite merch, and the marketers who tease out the special sauce of really leveraging these unpaid brand ambassadors may actually revolutionize social media marketing.

Have there been companies that have done it well already? Procter & Gamble may be the closest to really getting it right. Its site and newsletter Vocalpoint engages women not just with free samples (which are always nice!) but also with a forum for women to talk to each other in a nonthreatening, inviting community. Many of P&G’s brands are big players in the social media space. Among them are Olay, which has an active social media presence, and has been able to broaden its user base and demo in recent years; Pantene, which recently became one of the first brands to launch a community manager (the Pantene Beauty Maven); Cover Girl; and Herbal Essences.

There hasn’t been one knockout win yet in the beauty arena—but it will happen. The question at this point isn’t “Why not?” The question is “When?”

The Consumers’ New Clothes (Sarah Ferguson, Take Note)

Originally posted on the Huffington Post.

I don’t need to tell you that the world has seen its share of change lately. We used to embrace change and make it happen (which entails pretty much everything before Sept. 11, 2001). Then we watched it from the sidelines (the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the various financial crises), craved it (the 2008 U.S. presidential election) and circled back to watching—helplessly, it seems (losing patience with President Obama, the BP oil leak).

But now we’re creating change again. A New Consumerism is taking hold. People around the world are realizing their responsibility in current events and trying to take control of what they can. They’re making changes to simplify their finances, their consumption, their lives.

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