Send them on a cruise! A curriculum idea to better prepare our youth for the Ontario workforce

Honourable Lisa Thompson, Minister of Education in Ontario, recently surveyed the electorate about numerous issues. I diligently and reflectively completed her questionnaire on the subject of how to better prepare our children for the workforce, with a myriad of typical, experienced professional teacher-type suggestions, like relationship and parenting education, conflict resolution skills training, and more technology emphasis.

But a couple of recent travel experiences have given me a rather unusual, maybe quite radical even, but definitely creative suggestion which would, I am most confident to say, be better and truly impactful on our Ontario youth. This idea, as an elective, or mandatory programming strategy for most average and above average students, would very quickly bring them up to speed on what an employer wants and what they must deliver to shine brightly in the reality of the Ontario workforce. It would also bring them light years ahead in their understanding of the extremely fortuitous circumstances surrounding the accident of their birth in this wonderful province and how they could use that good fortune to study hard and then serve the world as adults with what they learn to do best.

I suggest we send our senior teens on a cruise.

They will, however, not be on a Disney ship with their parents, filling their faces with delectable unending varieties of food, swimming in warm salt water pools or lying on picturesque sandy Caribbean beaches. Nor will they be touring around the ancient ruins of the Aztecs in Mexico with their cell phone cameras, clicking selfies in front of the famous tourists attractions!

No. Not quite. In fact, absolutely not!

As an introduction to the working world, they will be going as front line, entry level cruise line employees, like the thousands who live and work on the cruise ships for the equivalent of 1100 American dollars a month, plus bed and board, and who come from many other countries quite unlike Canada, indeed!

They will go like real ship staff, as cabin cleaners, kitchen helpers, or dining room servers on an eight-month contract, working 12-hour shifts, seven days a week, trained and overseen virtually every minute of their shift by supervisors whose sole aim is the achievement of excellent results from every employee. They will sleep in communal crew quarters and eat the basic no frills meals prepared for staff. They will learn to get up on time, clean up as required, dress in impeccably clean and well fitted uniforms, and show up with a smile every day, ready to work. They will do as instructed and perform their job to the standards of excellence the cruise line advertises, expects and delivers for its paying passengers. They will not be asked how things should be done while learning how to do the job they are hired for, at any time during their first eight months on the job. They will come to understand that one may get to be a manager only after demonstrating that one actually performs at the highest levels in the job and is able to maintain that level for many years as an outstanding employee. They will be given no days off unless they are sick and a ship doctor will see them within hours of their complaint, treat them and get them back to work as quickly as possible. Workers must be on time, cannot exceed the limits of their break periods without penalty and are never seen standing around, wasting their time, or chatting endlessly with co workers while on their work shift. Cell phones while working are not allowed, period. Smoking is not allowed, period. Nor is drug or alcohol usage allowed, period. Rules around romantic relationships are strict and enforced, period.

Some may be surprised to learn that the performance descriptors of the jobs proposed for this senior teens curriculum are the real life working conditions of the staff on cruise ships. They also are representative of the kind of skills and work habits Ontario employers of high school graduates and first year college and university graduates desire and expect when hiring entry level staff in the mainstream workforce in which I assisted unemployed Ontarians as a vocational counsellor to find and maintain jobs. This cruise ship work experience could effectively provide our youth with the opportunity to practice and learn what they need to know about being a good worker and how to maintain a job.

While involved in this eight month real-world work experience as a cruise ship employee, the students would have to solve all their own problems. If a coworker bullies them, they are to figure out how to deal with it and do it. If the boss is critical or seems too demanding, they are to figure out how to deal with it and do it. If they are unhappy, feel put upon or underpaid for all they do as an newbie cabin cleaner or dining room server, or if they receive a complaint from a spoiled, elite or rude passenger, they must figure out how to deal with it and do it. The students would be told that their teacher/chaperones are only to be contacted in cases of real emergency, health, safety, or life and death type issues. As well, they must agree not to contact their parents for advice, help or money, except for extremely serious reasons and with their teacher/chaperone’s approval.

In addition, shore excursions with group tours at predetermined ports of call would be encouraged.The teacher/chaperones would ensure their students would see the realities of life in other cities and countries where they stop. They would be sure to hire guides to see such sites as the poorest areas of Latin America, the favellos in Mexico, or the pollution and garbage strewn everywhere in many South American cities. They would take them to see the hovels in which thousands of people reside in Lima, Peru with no water or toilets on the desert nearby. They would make sure their charges see the labour activities that children do in some of these countries rather than studying at a school, and understand why in places where a full third of the adults are unemployed, begging and stealing is taught to children just to survive. The teachers might talk to our teenagers about the sex trade into which children are sometimes sold by their own families because others in that family need to eat. They could talk to them about dictatorships, drug cartels and corruption. They could run discussions after the tours about the lives of people in the area they visited, the impact of poverty, the impact of religions, the impact of no education or opportunity for anything better.

In addition to this, the students would be required to keep journals each day about their observations and keep insightful notes which speak to their feelings about what they see. They would jot down ideas about the work habits expected in their jobs. They would be required to talk to the workers on the ship doing similar jobs, and how it came to be they worked for the cruise ship. Our youth could find out all they can about many of their co workers who hail from countries far and wide. They could ask them about their hopes and dreams for the future. They could be thinking too,  about their own.

Let our young people learn firsthand that highly intelligent, university graduates not much older than themselves from other countries, are grateful to work in these low level jobs on cruise ships for a pittance that must be sent home to their families to allow then to barely stay alive. Let them hear how many loving mothers and fathers must have their children cared for by others back in their home country because the job on the cruise ship is the best they can get with their degrees in journalism, education or business. Let them hear stories about how these amazing workers from impoverished places in the world wait and watch for any possible chance to immigrate to a country where opportunity is better for them and their children. Let our youth hear about astoundingly inspiring, hard working, healthy, educated, multilingual cabin cleaners who would give anything just for a chance to live in a place like Ontario, and make their way without an iota of assistance from anyone!

When the eight-month cruise has ended I would give them a ninth month of self-directed learning with total freedom to complete the requirements for this section of the curriculum in any fashion they might choose. I would ask them for a few papers to be completed by themselves in their own written hand and then, only submitted with a computerized version if they wished, along with all the notes and references they used to prepare their assignment. 

Assignments could include papers about all aspects of any country they visited. Or maybe an essay on the impact of one’s birth location, race, parentage, political ideology, economy, religion, or gender for example. Or perhaps a considered paper about why Ontario youth should be more grateful, how they should value their opportunities and use them to the best of their ability. And lastly, an essay on their own personal growth during this school year, how it affected their goals and dreams and what they plan to do about it. This last one, may be the best and a true assessment of the efficacy of this curriculum idea designed to prepare them for the workforce.

In the 10th month, I would assemble the students back in the school building they attended as a child/teenager every day for a full eight hours, with one hour for lunch and two 15 minute breaks, just as if they were in a paid job in Ontario. There they would get involved in discussions, presentations, and wrap-up activities which demonstrate what they have learned. The evaluation of the learning the student has accomplished would be observable and measureable by the completion of the cruise job successfully. It would be proven by his/her ability to have turned in a satisfactory performance on the job with the cruise line, by his/her contribution to discussion groups with the teachers after tours, by the submission of the completed journal, by the submission of several comprehensive papers, and by the participation and contribution to the summative activities creative teachers might come up with. Those activities would be designed to show beyond a shadow of a doubt that the student has gone forward in his/her knowledge, in his/her thinking about the world and life, and in his/her maturity of thought and behaviour throughout the entire 10 months of school.

I rather think this school year program would be extremely valuable for some of our unfocused, rudderless and rather spoiled, entitled and pampered teenagers. It would be amazing too, for the many who are already strong, goal-oriented students who know what they want out of life. I think it would help our young people seize the golden ring of an Ontario Education with a vengeance. It might help them all set sail with a clear destination for passionate careers in which they demonstrate aptitude and which might make a difference in our province and world. God only knows we have much to improve!

Yes, I think I will send this to Honourable Lisa Thompson. I will say that I want to take my original submission back. I want to replace my recommendation for improving on ways to better prepare our Ontario teenagers for the workforce. I want her to forget my ideas about relationship and parenting courses, conflict resolution training and more technology education. Although these suggestions are worthy of consideration, I have a better idea!

I now want to simply suggest we send them on a cruise!