Let’s inspire today’s younger generations and change the game for education and workforce development — Ask Me Anything!

Mark C. Perna
Jun 19, 2018

If you’ve ever struggled to motivate the young people in your sphere of influence, I have the answers you’ve been looking for. As an international performance consultant for educational organizations and businesses, I’ve devoted my career to empowering parents, educators, and employers to reach and motivate today’s younger generations. I call them the Why Generation because they want and need to know the purpose behind everything they’re asked to do. Contrary to popular opinion, I believe today’s young people have it within themselves to become the next Greatest Generation. We just have to answer their why.

Not only that, but also I’m a single dad to two amazing Millennials, so I have some insights for parents, too. My son Nick was a smart kid with zero motivation to perform to his true potential in the schoolwork grind. I’ll share his story and how he found the motivation to turn his performance around and change his life. Maybe you have a Nick at home, full of ability but lacking the spark to fully realize it. There’s hope when your child finds his or her personal light at the end of the tunnel — I promise!

I’ve worked with businesses and educational organizations of all sizes across North America to maximize recruitment, retention, engagement, and performance rates. It’s all about getting the right students, in the right programs, for the right reasons. My proprietary strategies include Education with Purpose® and the wildly popular Career Tree® that is changing the face of career exploration in schools everywhere. My company website TFSresults.com has more details, along with glowing testimonials from clients and audience members. Check it out!

Finally, my new book Answering Why: Unleashing Passion, Purpose, and Performance in Younger Generations distills the most powerful insights and strategies I have pioneered over my career. Publishers Weekly says it’s “perceptive…reasonable and thought-provoking arguments all.” From the urgent skills gap crisis to the proven tools to inspire our youngest generations, Answering Why addresses the burning questions faced by every educator, employer, and parent.

This book will help awaken the incredible potential of young people everywhere and spur them to increased performance on all fronts, so they can make a bigger difference — which is exactly what they want. You can preorder Answering Why on Amazon today or visit MarkCPerna.com for more information including a free chapter, discussion guide, and more.

It’s time to change the game for education, workforce development, and the young people who will change our world. Ask me anything — and let’s unleash the passion, purpose, and performance of the Why Generation together!

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Mark C. Perna says:

This AMA will end Jun 21, 2018 10AM EDT

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What are some of the most successful workforce development efforts that you have seen in last 5 years in different niches?
Jun 21, 4:44AM EDT0

The “signing day” concept has been an incredible initiative that the training organization Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) has adopted with tremendous results. Young people considering a career in the construction trades go through a sequence of showcase events, hands-on experiences, and one-on-one discussions to help them determine if this field is right for them. If and when they find the career that appeals to them — when they truly become the right trainee, in the right program, for the right reasons — they officially commit to their program of study in a public event attended by relatives, friends, organization leadership, and the media. This gives the trainee great motivation to complete that training, thus improving engagement, retention, and completion rates. It’s something that is celebrated; it’s a big deal. ABC and I have worked together to craft these signing day events into a cornerstone of the national organization, and we plan to continue their impact into the future.


Another significant workforce development effort is the Career Tree®. I’ve shared some info about it in other answers so I won’t repeat that all here. Schools and workforce development organizations across North America are using it to make a bigger difference for the young people they serve.

Jun 21, 8:16AM EDT0
Do you also provide help or focus on nonprofit workforce development?
Jun 20, 7:45PM EDT0

Hi Monjy! Yes... we work with profit and nonprofit workforce development organizations. My focus with all clients is to help them attract and retain significantly more students.

Jun 20, 9:20PM EDT0
How is it possible to develop a skilled workforce for the modern age of innovation and change?
Jun 20, 7:27AM EDT0

I love that question as it took me almost 2-years to fully answer it in my book Answering Why due out September 18th. It starts with vision and answering why for the younger generations as they have to buy-in to the direction of the organization. They no longer want to work in an organization where pursuit of the almighty dollar is the only outcome. They want to work in an organization that gives back and that has a significant purpose beyond making money and shareholder value. They want their contribution to mean something, so they can take great pride in supporting the organization towards that greater purpose.  Where innovation is strong, the organizations that connect best with their workforce will not only retain passionate employees, but benefit significantly by tapping into that well-trained and committed workforce for the innovations that matter most to the organization – allowing them to compete globally.

Jun 20, 9:47AM EDT0
With all the things you do, how do you make time for your family especially your children?
Jun 19, 3:04PM EDT0

Great question... I travel extensively for work, but my sons and I stay connected via text, email, and phone. When I’m home we’re always getting together. I’m a proud Papa to two precious granddaughters and spending time with them is the light of my life. It’s all about priorities and remembering what really matters amid the busyness of life.

Jun 19, 3:12PM EDT0
For career-focused education, does this mean that ideally - some subjects don’t have to be taken by other students?
Jun 19, 2:40PM EDT0

I believe in a well-rounded education. Academic knowledge is incredibly important in our technologically advanced society, but technical skills have become equally critical. The person who has both has a powerful competitive advantage in today’s new economy. The ideal education exposes young people to both academic and technical disciplines, with increasing freedom to choose the subjects as the student progresses through his or her high school years.

Jun 19, 2:52PM EDT0
What are the results you ideally want to see at TFS? What are you aiming for?
Jun 19, 10:31AM EDT0

Karen, my ultimate goal would be to make a tremendous difference in education and workforce development nationwide.  This means closing the Skills Gap which has expanded 18 years in a row and currently sits at over 6 million jobs, along with significantly lowering the debt burden that young people incur without a clearly defined purpose behind those education invested dollars. Education with Purpose is my passion… every young person should know why they are being educated and the outcome, possibilities, and advantage received from that education (at any level). It’s all part of Answering Why.

Jun 19, 11:03AM EDT0

How do we motivate 20 somethings to save money to get a home of their own?

Jun 19, 9:18AM EDT0

Hi Angela! Great question... I get asked that a lot. There is no magic phrase or statement that makes a 20 something want to save money and ultimately get their own house – unless it’s something they see as part of their own lifestyle goals (which is key). Having said that, I planted a seed with my sons as they were entering high school that high school was the place to figure things out – I told them to explore, have fun, and prepare for life on their own terms as that is a natural part of life. I have always believed that self-reliance and independence are the greatest gifts we can impart to our children. That means sometimes we have to help them feel uncomfortable, so they hear the branch creak in their own lives… that’s when they focus, plan, and take action in the direction of their aspirations.

 I shared with my sons in a loving way, as they entered high school, that they can do anything in their lives they aspire to – and that after high school they were going to be moving out to attend college, or moving out to join the military, or moving out to start a career, or moving out to start a business, or moving out to live with friends – common denominator was they were going to be moving out. That set an early expectation that they were going to have to take charge of their lives and fly on their own – on their terms. They did and today they are self-reliant, independent, making great incomes, and in their own homes. Every situation is unique and has its own set of circumstances – and it’s not always easy, but often necessary to guide them towards the action that best suites them long-term.

Jun 19, 10:55AM EDT0
What is different about the work mentality of millennials that has to be taken into account when employing them? How can you keep them motivated since most now want to be their own boss?
Jun 19, 3:04AM EDT0

Older generations held the mantra of “live to work.” It was all about getting that next promotion, moving up the ladder, advancing in your career. Today’s young people have turned that around; they “work to live.” Their careers are not the end-all, be-all of their existence. Instead, for them experience is everything. One Millennial I quote in my book says “we’d rather have experiences than paychecks.”

 Also, they won’t work for companies whose vision doesn’t align with their own. They want to belong and to contribute to something bigger than themselves, and they can’t do that in an environment that is antithetical to their beliefs.

 Young workers thrive in workplaces that answer their why with clear and complete information, show them respect, seek new ways to increase flexibility, encourage group interactions, and challenge them to perform at their highest level. Many young people, especially those of Generation Z, have a strong desire for entrepreneurship and I think much of that is driven by the flexibility and freedom that such a career would deliver. Employers looking to retain these workers must give them as much autonomy as possible in their roles.

Jun 19, 7:46AM EDT0
Is your book Answering Why best for teachers or for parents?
Jun 19, 2:13AM EDT0

Honestly, there’s something for everyone in Answering Why. The main thrust and focus is education, but there are several sections that deal specifically with parenting challenges and also the employment world. Almost all the insights are useful for everyone: educators, parents, and business and industry. We can all improve our interactions with the younger generations — or, if you’re a member of the younger generations, you might just learn some things about yourself. So many younger audience members have told me how helpful it was to see their generation through a different lens.

Jun 19, 7:47AM EDT0
What do you think of homework - should kids not have any homework simply because schoolwork must be done in school and home must be for family?
Jun 18, 8:09PM EDT0

Homework was not a pretty picture in my family when my sons were in school! Before he found his light at the end of the tunnel, Nick had to be hounded continually to make sure it got done. Even when it was completed, often it got lost or destroyed on its way to school with him. I believe homework can teach valuable lessons beyond the actual content — lessons about responsibility, follow-through, and honesty. There may be cases where too much is assigned, but that’s a different conversation.

Jun 18, 8:16PM EDT0
When developing Career Tree®, what were the main challenges you were trying to solve and how many schools were involved during the first implementation? How did you measure the results of the previous system against the results of Career Tree® and what were the most important findings?
Jun 18, 11:11AM EDT0

The main challenge I wanted to solve was to take young people from not knowing what they didn’t know, to knowing what they knew and acting decisively on that knowledge. The problem had been on my mind since my son Nick’s turnaround in high school; I knew there had to be a way to replicate his experience for many more students who lacked the direction they needed.

In late 2014 I had a conversation with a highly disillusioned, even bitter teacher who was angry with his students for not knowing what they wanted to do with their lives. But as I thought about it, I realized it wasn’t the students’ fault. How could they know what we never told them? From there it was a matter of creating an effective way to not just tell them, but involve them in their own self-discovery and goal-setting.

The Career Tree was shown to more than 150 professional educators on my client teams around the country prior to being released as a wide-scale career exploration strategy. I am profoundly grateful for the feedback and insights these educators contributed to the Career Tree strategy.

I don’t have specific data on how the Career Tree has improved upon former systems because in most cases, there were no structured career explorations systems in place that had the breadth and integration that the Career Tree delivers. However, the organizations across the country that are using the Career Tree consistently report that student enrollment, retention, engagement, and performance are up. It’s making a difference.

Last edited @ Jun 18, 2:30PM EDT.
Jun 18, 2:21PM EDT0
What school age is Career Tree meant for? Is it best for older kids like the ones in high school?
Jun 18, 7:58AM EDT0

The Career Tree is extremely versatile and is being used with great success by organizations at all levels, from middle schools through postsecondary institutions. In middle schools we just want to get students thinking and aware of the major career fields out there and the opportunities that appeal to them. By the time they reach high school, the Career Tree becomes a much more focused and hands-on tool as they start doing the in-depth research and experiences that help them find the career and educational pathway that’s right for them.

Jun 18, 8:39AM EDT0

Hi Marc, what a grea topic! What is your take on Worldschooling and unschooling? I would love to hear. Thanks! 

Jun 17, 1:22PM EDT0

Hi Jessy! I’m not an expert in worldschooling/unschooling, as the bulk of my work is with established school systems and educational centers. However, I like to keep an open mind about alternative methods of learning. Based on my limited knowledge of the worldschooling/unschooling movement, I would say those methods could play very well with the “experience is everything” mindset of today’s young people. We all gain and retain the most information when we are actively involved in our learning rather than being passive recipients — and that goes for any method of schooling.

Jun 17, 4:02PM EDT0
What is it about millennials today that makes other people, mostly older people judge them so much?
Jun 17, 1:19PM EDT0

It’s critical to remember that today’s young people are exactly the way we made them. The older generations have reared the younger generations — we shouldn’t be surprised at the way they turned out! There are many negative stereotypes out there, due in part to older folks simply not liking the younger people’s different approach to life. I have found that in the cases where the negative stereotypes do actually have some validity, it’s often because the young person in question has never been shown the light at the end of the tunnel. He or she has no “why” to do anything differently because no one has ever given a compelling reason to perform at a higher level. We in the older generations have to accept the fact that today’s young people are different from us (and that’s okay) and also embrace our role in helping them discover their why.

Jun 17, 3:43PM EDT0
How does a parent help his child manage his time between school and extra-curricular activities? Any tips you can share?
Jun 17, 10:55AM EDT0

One thing I tell my student audiences is that they need to make sure they are spending enough time building their own dreams. When they play video games, watch movies, and spend their time on entertainment, that’s fine, but when they do that they’re building the dreams of the people who created that entertainment. That time spent is not an investment in their own dream. So I think that principle can apply to anything that would overly distract a young person from performing at their highest level in school. Parents can leverage the question “Is this helping you build your dream?” to start the conversation about a healthy balance between fun activities and the things they have to do to succeed.

Jun 17, 3:43PM EDT0
What other imminent problems will arise as consequence of not tackling the big issues that are disrupting the educational system in America nowadays?
Jun 16, 1:32PM EDT0

The skills gap in America is already a major cause for concern — there are millions of jobs available in high-demand, high-wage industries like aviation, healthcare, manufacturing, construction, transportation, engineering, and more, but not enough people with the skills to fill them. If we don’t focus, plan, and take action as a nation, our economy will be further weakened in the years to come.

Jun 16, 3:33PM EDT0
Does Career Tree involve financial education to children - like instead of having them learn about specific careers, they can be taught how to handle businesses/money in general?
Jun 16, 7:56AM EDT0

The Career Tree has a component called the Root System Career Plan, which functions as a detailed plan of study for young people who have determined their career direction. As part of this ongoing exercise, students must research the cost of the postsecondary education they plan to pursue, whether that’s college, specialized training, apprenticeship, etc. Most young people today who go to college receive little to no financial counseling and thus don’t understand the implications of the student loans they’re taking out. How detailed the Career Tree gets with the financial side of education depends greatly on the teacher and the emphasis he or she chooses to make. But even without any additional classroom emphasis this particular Career Tree exercise still provides more financial awareness than many young people have upon graduating high school.

Jun 16, 3:34PM EDT0
How is the educational model changing in America? How can the gap between generations be diminished in order to find some common ground that will allow to pivot the course of education for the better?
Jun 16, 7:43AM EDT0

We have moved to a competitive educational landscape where the goal of every high school in America is to get their students into college — as if college itself is the end goal. It didn’t use to be that way. In many schools career-minded educational programs and courses have been gutted, with the result that many young people have no practical experience or technical skill development. They go to college because that’s what everyone says to do. Maybe they graduate, maybe they don’t. In both cases, many are burdened with huge loads of student loan debt. In the big picture, this has created a crisis-level skills gap between the skills employers need and the skills that today’s up and coming workforce actually possess.

Academic performance is important, but so is technical skill development. In fact, the people possessing both have the single biggest advantage in today’s new economy. I’m a huge fan of going to college if you have a clear plan for what you want to get out of it and how that degree is going to advance your career aspirations. But going without purpose, just to go because everyone else is going — well, that can end up just being a huge waste of time and money.

We can start focusing on the “why” behind what we are teaching our young people. They will perform to their full potential when they see there is a compelling reason and purpose that make their actions meaningful. When they realize the relevance of their education to the lifestyle and career they want to pursue, they may just surprise us with how passionate, determined, and focused they can be.

Jun 16, 3:35PM EDT0
For full-time working parents, how important is it to find a job that lets them have a bit more time with their children?
Jun 16, 6:38AM EDT0

I’m a huge believer in finding the perfect intersection of lifestyle and career — and that intersection is different for everyone. There is no strict answer or cookie-cutter mold for what works best for every family. Prioritizing your family is critical, whatever that looks like in your individual life. As much as I love my career and what I do, I love my family far more and they are the first consideration for me. I’ve been working with schools and businesses around the country for 20 years but much of the national prominence my company has gained has happened in more recent years when my sons were grown and I had the freedom to travel as much as I now do. Before that, when they were in school and I was parenting them as a single dad, I chose not to travel so extensively, because they always came first for me.

Jun 16, 3:36PM EDT0
People say that the youth of today feel way too entitled than they should be - what do you think of this?
Jun 15, 10:33PM EDT0

We have to remember that today’s younger generations are exactly the way the older generations have made them. If entitlement is an issue, why is that? Where did it come from? It has its roots in the way that young people were reared. I don’t think we have done them any favors when everyone gets a trophy for participating or when we never allow them to feel that they have failed in some way. Failure is actually a powerful way to learn.

I do think we need to take the time to listen and understand the young person’s point of view instead of making a snap judgment that he or she feels entitled. And if we take the time to do that, which shows them a certain level of respect, there is a much greater chance that we’ll gain a hearing with them about our point of view. When we show them respect first, they quickly reciprocate it. We have to work together constructively to bridge our generational rifts rather than using labels and judgments that only widen those gaps.

Jun 16, 3:37PM EDT0
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