University prepares young people for the work world, but add on children, an uncertain economy, and different countries, and the question is: does higher education train youth for life?

Nikol, a 33-year-old mother of two, was born to a single mom in the Czech Republic right after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Nikol dreamt of working in the tourist industry with the ability to travel and of having kids. Studying Business in English at the University of Pardubice gave her the best of both worlds. Nikol, now a part-time English and Spanish language teacher at a kindergarten, still pursues her career as a travel agent while on maternity leave.

For those who are unsure of their career paths and a specified trade school is not for them, attending university can open many doors, according to Lisa, a 46-year-old American mother of two. Lisa received a BA in Latin American and Community Studies. However, she gravitated toward teaching history, math, and Spanish.

“For me, university was eye-opening. There were whole new ways of thinking about things that I had never been introduced to, historical perspectives I had never been taught. I felt like a sponge and wanted to learn everything I could,” said Lisa.

Student debt, the wage-price spiral, and parental laws around the world affect job security. Recent Berlin University of Applied Sciences (SRH Hochschule) graduate, Luca, finished an internship program at ABInBev, a Prague beer company. Hoping to have a job guaranteed, everything still hung in the balance.

The COVID-19 pandemic increased global unemployment, which will only slowly decline, according to the United Nations Statistic Division. Many students assume finding a job after graduation will be difficult. Luca disagrees.

“I don’t think that’s true. I think a lot of companies these days are looking for fresh graduates, especially like young people with the modern mindset. These days everything is digital, and it’s no secret that younger people are a little bit more used to technological stuff,” said Luca.

However, work experience is vital for success, according to Nikol. Her experience as a teacher during her studies and as an au-pair in England and Spain, which solidified her language skills, strengthened her appeal to employers, said Nikol.

For both mothers of two, university was a priceless experience that brought them a career; however, health care and parental leave laws in the Czech Republic provided Nikol with the support needed to be both a stay-at-home mother and a part-time professional.

“It’s not easy to have kids. For example, in Italy, I know they can stay home for only 6 months. In [the] US I think it’s 3 months only, so to be able to stay home for 3 years and to get money for having kids I’m even like wow,” said Nikol.

A diploma is a foot in the door, demonstrating what graduates are capable of in order to gain invaluable experience for finding future jobs, according to Lisa and Nikol. Though it is not the only way to have a successful career, in some cases, employers might still discriminate based on age and marital status despite having a degree.

Photo by: Ela Angevine

Parents in the US have significantly less parental leave than in the Czech Republic, and health care is not universal. They also lack laws protecting employment in the case of pregnancy in the US, according to Lisa.

“One of the jobs I applied for was a residential assistant for an at-risk youth program on an indigenous reservation. Despite my extensive work with youth, they didn’t give me the job because they worried that the youth might hurt me while I was pregnant. I can’t answer the question as to how valid that concern was,” said Lisa.

Minimum wage and the cost of living also factor into family life. Salary has not increased in proportion to inflation, according to Lisa, citing her dad’s ability to purchase a house at about three times his starting yearly salary after graduation, while the average home now costs ten times the average yearly salary.  

University is not a job guarantee. It depends on the university and the degree of study. Private universities in Germany, for example, seem to focus on theoretical knowledge rather than practical knowledge, which is not applicable in the workplace, according to Luca.

“It really depends. If you have a degree, it’s better. They see you in [a] different way, but it really doesn’t matter if you have a bachelor’s degree or a masters degree,” said Nikol, agreeing with Luca.

In different stages of life, both mothers and students agree that a university degree enhances job opportunities. However, experience gained both prior to and on the job is vital, indicating a prospective employee’s value and imposing the idea that, as a young worker, you too have skills to offer.