18 May 2011 Ideas Life

Hoop Jumping 101

I’m in the University of Waterloo’s co-op program, which means my schooling is interspersed with chunks of work experience to let me get some practical knowledge of the field. It’s a great system on the whole, but talk to any co-op student at UW and they’ll tell you the same thing: PD is terrible.

PD: Professional Development. Also known as How to Pontificate About Nothing, or perhaps Hoop Jumping 101. These online courses, which we take in tandem with each work term, are like a welcome mat for our transition into the working world that reads: “Follow the crowd. Do as I say. Don’t ask questions.”

The courses are structured in the worst kind of linear, there-is-only-one-right-answer format that squashes creative thought and stifles discussion. They ensure that we graduate with a standardized set of essential workplace skills, because God forbid we forget to use the S.M.A.R.T. checklist when we communicate in “the real world”.

I’m doing PD3: Communication right now, which contains such absolutist nonsense as “All employers will be pleased to be addressed by their last name!”. In a half-baked attempt to be relevant, one module had a story about Star Trek, which illustrated that it’s always better to be “civilized” than “barbaric”. I didn’t realise we were still in colonial-era England.

One exercise asked me to pick the “best” ending to a dialogue between co-workers, then write a paragraph about it. This was my paragraph.

This exercise took the classic “thesis, antithesis, and synthesis” approach to presenting three alternate endings. It’s a formula that is predictable and guides the reader towards the last option - synthesis - requiring very little critical thinking on my part. Because of this, I can confidently say that Jim’s third response was his best. It combined the attempt to foster community (“I’m sorry you’ve had some issues”) with the attempt to keep company operations moving smoothly (“It might be worthwhile to ask her for a meeting”), all tied together with a requisite qualifier to absolve the speaker of responsibility (“I don’t understand all the circumstances”). The lesson here is to always speak as if you’re reading an HR Best Practices guide word-for-word.

PD encourages us to avoid risks, water down our ideas, and conform to become productive employees. All things, might I point out, that run counter to Waterloo’s marketing pitch as an innovative institution that embraces the “spirit of why not”.

Sam Nabi


Goaliedave 18 May 2011, 14:55

You will never grow up to be Prime Minister Stephen Harper like that!

Anonymous coward 19 May 2011, 03:56

 Well said. Waterloo seems to have no intention of embodying those attributes they claim to represent. 

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