Media Kit: Answering Why

Below you will find elements of the media kit for Mark C. Perna’s book Answering Why: Unleashing Passion, Purpose, and Performance in Younger Generations. For the full media kit and all other publicity information, please contact Brian Feinblum at Media Connect: 1.212.583.2718 or

Q & ASelected ExcerptsThe Why Generation in the Workplace

Q & A

1. What exactly is the “skills gap” and why has it been expanding in our country?
The skills gap is a term that describes the divide between the skills employers are looking for in prospective employees and the skills that workers actually have. Basically, as our economy grows we just don’t have enough people with the right skills to help businesses power that growth. The skills gap is happening to some extent across all industries, but certain industries like manufacturing, construction, and healthcare are especially struggling to find qualified workers. There are many reasons for the expanding skills gap, but I believe one of the main factors is how we have taught everyone that college is the only way to win, that you have to go to college to get a high-paying, rewarding job. Today, this just isn’t true, and the “college for all” mindset has the unintended effect of stigmatizing certain professions and careers that don’t require a four-year degree.

2. Why do you assert our education and work force development systems are broken?
Right now, it is the goal of every high school in America to get all their graduates to go to college. College itself has become the goal, rather than being a step along the way toward the goal of a rewarding career. Alongside this “college for all” mindset, we have seen the traditional high school vocational programs gutted or completely cut in many schools. So what happens is that students think college is truly their only option for a good career and life. But college is not built for everyone, and there is only a limited ratio of jobs within our economy that require a four-year degree. So there are countless students who go to college because that’s what everyone says to do, but they go without a real plan because the only plan they have is simply “go to college.” They start the process of career exploration at college, at the highest dollar amount possible, rather than entering college with a defined goal and direction. Many don’t finish their degree and are then saddled with crippling student loan debt, while others who do finish are unemployed or significantly underemployed because there simply aren’t enough degree-requiring jobs to go around. We have to find a better way.

3. What advice do you have for parents raising their children today for tomorrow’s economy?
I’m a father to two amazing young men who are part of the Millennial generation (or as I call them, the Why Generation) and I know parenting today is not easy. One of my sons, Nick, is extremely smart but struggled in school because he never understood why school mattered, or the relevance of academics. That all changed the minute he toured a computer programming career program and discovered what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. Suddenly he realized he needed to boost that 1.5 GPA to get into college and get the degree he needed to pursue his newfound dream. Amazingly, he turned his lackluster performance around and achieved his goal. He’s working in his field today and loves what he does. When he discovered his passion, it was transformative. What I learned from Nick is this: As parents, we have to support our child’s desire to understand why. We have to help them find the answers and discover what they’re passionate about so they can perform at a higher level not just in school, but in every area of life. This may mean exploring careers and industries that are outside our own experience, to see if they would be a good fit for our children. I find a lot of parents simply don’t know what they don’t know about the vast opportunities in so many career fields today. So let’s open our minds and learn.

4. Who is college for?
College is a fantastic option for the person who has discovered the career they want to pursue, and this career requires a four-year degree or higher. I want to be very clear that I am not anti-college (heck, I went to college myself!). College can be an amazing postsecondary pathway—but it has to be pursued purposefully. Don’t go to college just to go to college; go with a clearly defined purpose and goal. College is not the place to go and figure out life. As much as possible, we need to help students discover their career direction prior to college so that they don’t end up going into tremendous debt while they figure it out. So college is great for those whose career goals require it—but it’s not the only rewarding postsecondary pathway out there. It’s just one option among many other equally valuable paths.

5. If college is not right for some, what path should they be encouraged to take?
You know, I am all for students determining their own pathway. I don’t think we should pressure or push anyone toward a particular educational or training track. Having said that, in order for students to determine their own pathways they need to know what all their choices are. We have to overcome what I call their Awareness Gap. Students today simply don’t know what they don’t know about all the options that are out there. I encourage young people to try new things, to take part in high school career and technical programs, to get a feel for what they love and what they’re good at. I would tell them to keep an open mind about the industries and occupations they may never have considered, because maybe that’s where they will discover their perfect fit. There are so many choices out there for postsecondary learning—specialized career programs, industry credentials, college, apprenticeships, internships, technical colleges, and many more. It starts with self-discovery: the student exploring their interests to find the area they’re passionate about. When the student determines the pathway they are truly passionate about pursuing, completion rates will skyrocket. It’s all about the student finding their passion.

6. Why are we struggling to connect meaningfully with those in generations older and younger than our own?
I think a lot of it is simply expectations. As a baby boomer father of two millennials, I have had some major adjustments to make! An example would be the very different ways my sons and I communicate. When I write a text, I open it with a greeting, write something substantive that I have thought through, and finish with a heartfelt closing like “have a great day, love, Dad.” But how do my sons respond? Several hours later, I get a single letter back. You guessed it: “k.” They can’t even take the time to spell out the entire word! I think we have to let go of our expectations for “this is the way it is done.” Sometimes our way is not the only way. Sometimes there is more than one right answer. Understanding the traits of the generations (including our own!) and what societal and historical things happened to shape us into who we are can go a long way in helping us navigate what I call “Generational Rifts.” For instance, the Why Generation, today’s young people, view themselves as unique, special, and important—and this is all because that is how we reared them. Keeping these traits in mind can help us communicate and interact in ways that are productive instead of frustrating.

7. As a father and long-time consultant in the related fields of education and work force development, why did you see an urgency to write this book?
I was inspired to write Answering Why because all around the country, so many people are asking that very question. Why? Why are we struggling to connect meaningfully with those in generations older and younger than our own? Why are our education and workforce development systems broken? Why is the skills gap expanding in our country, and why is there no easy solution in sight? I believe there is no more urgent moment than now to start solving these challenges facing our nation. Millions of jobs go unfilled in the United States because employers can’t find workers with the right skills—and yet millions of people are un- or underemployed. And we can change this when we start answering the essential question of why. But even more than that, I wrote this book because I see the urgency for employers, parents, and educators to reach the younger generations. I believe we can empower today’s younger generations to make a bigger difference than ever before. And if the strategies and stories of the work I do can help generations of young people reach their full potential, then together we’ve changed the world for the better.

8. What do we need to understand about the Why Generation, as employers, when hiring and training the Millennials and Generation Z?
The main thing is to understand they are what I call the Why Generation. They want to know the reason behind everything, because this is exactly how we reared them. A lot of folks in the older generations perceive this as disrespect or insubordination, but it’s actually not. Young people want to know the reason why so that they can fully understand what they are being asked to do, and even more than that, so they can see if there is a way they can improve the process and ultimate product. They want to bring their own unique, special, and important contribution to the success of the plan, whatever it may be. They want to be engaged, they want their work to be relevant and mean something. They are not being rebellious when they ask why; they really want to know. They want purpose and will perform to the expectations we set for them (whether high or low). We have to answer the big question they are always asking in one way or another: why?

9. You say it’s not a “skills gap” but an “awareness gap” that needs to be bridged. How do we do this?
Well, the skills gap is a direct result of the Awareness Gap because people are not aware of the amazing opportunities in these high-paying, high-demand fields. So naturally, they don’t train for the skills that would make them successful in these kinds of careers. This leads to a huge disconnect between employers and the employees they hope to hire. We need to bridge this Awareness Gap so that more people are aware of the many different viable career pathways in America today. Sometimes people are held back by outdated ideas and stigmas about certain industries that simply aren’t true anymore. I think of the automotive industry and how so many parents are hesitant about their child taking an automotive course in high school because they think it will turn their child into a “grease monkey” for the rest of their lives. But the opposite is actually true. Today’s cars are high-tech, precision vehicles with multiple computers, sensors, and advanced technology. Someday soon, these cars are going to be driving themselves. That’s the reality—and the opportunities in this field are more exciting than ever. But people just don’t realize it. We have the bridge the Awareness Gap and once we do that, the skills gap will take care of itself.

10. How can we change the educational and workforce development paradigm in the United States?
We need to prioritize meaningful career exploration as a cornerstone of the educational experience—and I’m not just talking high school. We need to start this process as early as middle school, just to get the conversation started. Self-discovery is not something that can be rushed, and the sooner we start, the better chance our kids have of truly reflecting on and finding what they love to do. I call this philosophy Education with Purpose® because we are helping students discover the purpose for their effort and performance in school. They can then further their education in a purposeful way because they know where they want to go and what they need to do to get there. A lot of schools are trying to do so many different and important things, that career exploration becomes an afterthought or something that is relegated to a single appointment with the overworked guidance counselor. We have to find a better model that makes career exploration a part of every class and concept. My strategy is called the Career Tree® and it’s not just another thing that schools have to do; it can become an integral part of what they’re already doing. It’s like the connective tissue that holds everything together and drives the students toward greater success.

11. What can we do to motivate today’s young people to attain higher performance in their careers?
Creating a clear roadmap for success within the organization is critical. Young people will be motivated if they see the opportunities that are there for the earning. The biggest motivator is a strategy I call the Light at the End of the Tunnel. The light is the goal, the reason for going through the tunnel, which is the work and effort required to reach that goal. Young people need to see that light at the end of their tunnels so they are motivated to push through and keep going until they reach it. This applies in educational settings as well as in the workplace. Because of how they were reared, they are looking for frequent feedback. Recognition and a supportive work environment are also important. The Why Generation wants bosses to be more like mentors and coaches. They can achieve great things, but they often need the steps clearly laid out so they can experience a sense of accomplishment at the completion of each step.

12. What should be done with our education system to address the national epidemic of rising college costs, fewer jobs requiring advanced degrees, and employee frustration with the younger generations in the workplace?
I believe we need to prioritize career exploration as a cornerstone of a fully rounded education. We need to move away from the outdated stigmas associated with “shop class” and other vocational routes and show how these pathways have evolved into high-paying, high-demand, high-tech careers that employers are desperate to fill. We need to rethink our assumption that college is the best path for everyone, because it’s not and there simply aren’t enough degree-requiring jobs in our economy to support the college for all mindset. In the workplace, we need to realize that generational differences are a huge factor in how people of different ages view the world and their place in it. Employers who adapt to the inquisitive nature and desire for purpose on the part of the Why Generation will be able to attract and retain the top talent in this generation. Those who insist on maintaining the status quo will falter in today’s new economy. It’s just the way things are shifting.

13. How will we fill the jobs that require degree and certificate holders? A recent study showed in 2025 the U.S. will be lacking 11,000,000 such people.
It has to start with bridging the Awareness Gap between what people don’t know or assume about certain careers and industries, and what the true reality is. We need to help students connect their Education with Purpose® so that they can pursue (and complete) the education and training that will make them successful in their chosen field. We have to start integrating career plans and self-discovery into the classroom conversation everywhere, to motivate young people to reach higher. We also need to move away from the notion that college is the only way to win—there are incredible career opportunities in many high-paying fields that require a certificate or credential, not a four-year degree (that often comes with a load of debt). And we have to help college bound students truly determine their career direction so they can finish the degrees they start and meet the pressing needs of our economy.

14. Why is it that more than 50% of those who earn their college degree are either unemployed or significantly underemployed?
There simply are not enough degree-requiring jobs in the economy to support the ever-increasing number of college graduates. A friend of mine, Dr. Kevin Fleming, put out a viral video called “Success in the New Economy” that says: “The true ratio of jobs in our economy is 1:2:7. For every occupation that requires a master’s degree or more, two professional jobs require a university degree, and there are over half a dozen jobs requiring a one-year certificate or two-year degree; and each of these technicians are in very high-skilled areas that are in great demand.” This ratio holds true over all industries and is not going to change. Not only that, but colleges are failing to align their offerings with the pressing needs of business and industry, so they often aren’t teaching the skills that employers are looking for. So we have many people heading off to college thinking that a viable, living-wage job will magically appear for them after graduation, and it just isn’t happening.

15. How do the unprecedented technological advances of the last decade impact and influence the Why Generation?
They’re digital natives, there’s no question about that. They have grown up surrounded by technology and it is their norm to have multiple screens going as they maximize their digital experience. Because they believe they’re unique, special, and important, they are constantly looking for ways to tell their story on the vast array of social media options. Partly due to social media, they have raised friends to the status and importance of family. They haven’t lowered family, but they believe their friends deserve the same commitment, loyalty, and support that were more common among close family members in previous generations. They also communicate differently, much more briefly than older folks are used to. Technology will continue to advance and affect all aspects of life, so it’s important that we adapt along with it, as the younger generations are always doing.

16. What is your “Light at the End of the Tunnel” strategy?
The Light at the End of the Tunnel is a concept I developed to better understand the relationship between self-motivation and outside motivation when it comes to achieving goals. Think of the tunnel as the work, labor, and effort required to achieve your goals, which are the light at the other end of that tunnel. In order to motivate yourself to go through the tunnel, there must be a powerful light, or “want-to,” at the opposite end to entice you sufficiently to persist through the tunnel to reach it. The light represents anything you want. It might be the kind of career, lifestyle, or relationships you want to achieve. Perhaps it is a specific material need or want that has been pent up for some time, or an impulse item that has recently appeared on your radar screen. Perhaps it is a certain position at work, recognition, or personal achievement. However you perceive it, and we all perceive it differently, the light is the reward and therefore the motivation necessary to journey through the tunnel. Understanding this concept is key to motivating both ourselves and others to achieve what we want.

17. Can you tell us about the Career Tree® that you have developed for classrooms?
The Career Tree is a refreshing alternative to hundreds of pathways, ladders, flow charts, and other complex metaphors and diagrams that have made education challenging for the layperson to understand. The branch system of the Tree is split into three equal horizontal sections. The first level, nearest the trunk, is the “Entry-Level Careers,” representing all the careers and occupations that are unlocked immediately following completion of the program of study, or trunk. “Entry-Level” is not synonymous with “low paying,” as many can earn a viable living wage depending on the industry and program of study. The term simply refers to the kinds of careers and occupations that are possible right away without any additional education, training, certifications, or licensure required. The middle third of the branch system is called the “Technical Careers,” which represent all the careers and occupations that students can unlock by obtaining further education such as advanced certifications, apprenticeship completion, specialized training, or a two-year associate degree. The top third of the branch system is called the “Professional Careers.” This level represents all the careers and occupations that are unlocked by obtaining further education, such as a four-year baccalaureate degree, a master’s degree, a PhD, or some type of specialized training.

18. How does this Tree help students at an early age get exposed to potentially hundreds of careers and a variety of paths to get to them?
The Career Tree starts the career conversation in the classroom and makes it an ongoing dialogue that gets students thinking about their future and what they want to do. This is all a collaborative experience where students are openly talking about their plans and learning from each other. It’s a key part of what I call a planning culture. The Tree helps connect their passions and lifestyle aspirations with their performance, by connecting the dots between today’s effort and tomorrow’s reward. In short, it brings relevance to their education by answering why they need to work hard. Part of the power of the Tree is that the students get to pick careers to research and report back to the class, things like how much does it pay, what are the day-to-day responsibilities, and what kind of lifestyle it will make possible.

19. Which jobs or professions show a shortage, especially those that pay well?
Manufacturing jobs are in huge demand today, encompassing the related fields of engineering, welding and fabrication, applied engineering and precision machining, etc.. Construction is a vast field that is struggling desperately to fill positions with qualified candidates ranging from engineers, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, millwrights, iron workers, etc. Healthcare is another industry that can’t find enough skilled, certified, or licensed professionals.

20. Why do you say that the intersection of academic knowledge and technical skills is the single most important competitive advantage in today’s new economy?
Because a degree is simply not enough anymore. At Harvard University’s Pathways to Prosperity conference where I had the privilege to speak, I had lunch with several Fortune 100 executives who told me their companies are no longer hiring people with master’s degrees. Instead, their hiring focus is on people who have the demonstrated experience and real-world skills to perform the work. One of the executives did tell me that if you have the skills they need, having a master’s degree won’t hurt you (!). I admit, my jaw dropped. And all four of the executives at the table said their companies had the same strategy. Just think about the implications of that! Academic performance matters, but if it’s divorced from its real-life application and context, it’s just what my father called “book smarts.” Today’s top-paying jobs require so much more. That’s why gaining real-world experience and technical skills alongside the academic achievements is what sets a young person apart in today’s new economy. It is the new competitive advantage that cannot be dismissed.

21. How do we create constructive career conversations?
It starts with respect for every viable, living-wage career pathway—even the ones that have been traditionally viewed as blue-collar jobs, with all the outdated ideas and stigmas attached to those professions. We have to extol the value of all postsecondary pathways that lead to rewarding, meaningful work. And we may have to rethink some of our definitions of what rewarding, meaningful work really is. Ultimately, it has to be determined by the individual, for him- or herself. Secondhand career aspirations pushed on a person by someone else rarely become that person’s passionate, driven lifework. It’s all about giving young people the knowledge and tools to make the best decision for themselves, in a context where all viable career choices are honored and respected. Constructive career conversations are not a one-time event; they must become integrated into the daily classroom dialogue. This is what will change the educational paradigm and bridge the Awareness Gap we face in America today.

Selected Excerpts

The Branch is Creaking

Whether you recognize it or not, the branch is creaking in America when it comes to engaging the younger generations and preparing them to successfully enter the workforce. There are some six million open jobs in our country right now — and no one qualified to fill them. We’re facing a crisis in both the education system and the arena of workforce development, and it’s critical that we focus, plan, and take action before the branch truly breaks. There is a huge generational shift happening in the United States. The Baby Boomers, the largest generation ever born in the United States, are retiring, leaving vast numbers of unfilled jobs in many critical economic sectors. As the economy grows into the future, the need for those jobs will only increase — a great opportunity for pretty much anyone currently under the age of 40, right? Yet the truth is that due to false perceptions, outdated stigmas, and what I like to call the Awareness Gap, many of today’s young people aren’t interested in those open jobs.”

A National Epidemic

We face a national epidemic of rising college costs, decreasing degree-requiring jobs, and employer frustration with the younger generations in the workplace. Yet we continue to rely on an outdated educational and workforce training system that was developed 50 years ago. Declining educational funding is another huge challenge for schools — another branch creak — as they are being forced to do more with less each year. The critical topic of career development has been drastically cut or even eliminated in many cases. And yet we’re puzzled about why our young people are underemployed.”

Preparing Students For Careers

I believe we have missed the point. Shouldn’t the ultimate goal be to prepare all students to be career ready? We have put our focus in the wrong place. Instead, preparing all students to be career ready should mean that students choosing a career requiring a four-year university degree should attend a four-year baccalaureate program. Students interested in a career requiring a two-year associate degree should take that path. Students wanting to pursue a career in any other area should work toward the certifications, licensures, and apprenticeships needed to succeed in their chosen field. Lots of training options are available, so let students choose the direction and follow the pathway needed to achieve their “want-to” goals in life. It seems like common sense, doesn’t it?”

Rediscovering Forgotten Career Paths

Throughout my work with comprehensive and unified school districts, career schools, and technical and community colleges, I have seen an abundance of career fields that are totally dismissed by students today because they simply do not understand the high-income potential of those fields. It’s the Awareness Gap in action. A job such as precision machinist is the very high-skilled and high-wage type of job that my lunch mates and I were discussing manufacturers around the country are in desperate need of precision machinists, but attracting the younger generations to the work is remarkably difficult. Several reasons probably account for the lack of interest: the work looks hard and dirty; insufficient career development in middle and high schools creates a lack of understanding about these opportunities; such programs are incorrectly perceived as boring and unfulfilling; and there is a stigma that only lower-performing students choose these kinds of career fields. Yet these fields deliver immediate employment, high wages, advancement opportunities, and job security because there are simply not enough skilled workers out there. They also deliver an advantageous pathway to college and many other additional opportunities. We have a real opportunity to rediscover these forgotten career paths and make them cool again.”

Era of Unprecedented Technology

The Why Generation has grown up in a time of unprecedented technological advances that have changed every aspect of life and communication. Amid these challenges (and opportunities) that are unique in the history of the world, these young people are tenacious and talented. They have immense resources and abilities to change the world for the better, and not only that, but they want to. They value collaboration and community. When they find a cause they believe in, they give it everything they’ve got. Yes, they’re different from older, but that’s not necessarily bad. In fact, many times those differences are strengths, not weaknesses.”

21st Century Recruitment & Training Strategies

Many times it seems that companies would prefer to continue doing things the way they have always done them, or make only token steps toward a more vision-centric company ethic. It’s as if the older and younger generations are on different ends of a spectrum and employers feel they have to move toward the younger generations — but they would prefer that the younger people would instead move in the direction of the employer. We have to let go of that expectation and work toward mutual success, viewing younger employees not as problems to be managed but assets to be developed and valued. We don’t appease or kiss up to them; we partner with them in a meaningful mission that brings purpose and value beyond just the paycheck.”

Changing Our Mindset

Quite simply, a successful 21st-century recruitment and retention strategy is not about kowtowing to the younger employees’ desires. It’s about harnessing their need for purpose, lighting up their pathway, and offering them something powerful to believe in. It’s not about giving them stuff; it’s entirely about inspiring them. But we have an opportunity before us to change our mindset and help unleash the passion, purpose, and performance of today’s young people. Employers are looking for the right employees, in the right positions, for the right reasons, and they struggle to unearth the empowered, skilled, passionate team members who will take ownership and responsibility for a job well done, for the good of the organization as well as themselves. Those candidates are out there, but in far too few numbers. The good news is we can help bolster the ranks of qualified people — if we can coach parents to open their minds to all the different pathways available to their children. Parents are often the most effective voice to bridge the Awareness Gap for their children. But they can’t address that gap for their children if it hasn’t been already been bridged for them.”

Closing the Awareness Gap

Our goal should be to close the Awareness Gap by conveying the broad range of careers and occupations available to young people today. Whatever strategy we use, it has to tell a compelling success story that the student can see himself in. It has to help change the education paradigm in this country so that we move students toward true career readiness rather than exclusively toward college readiness. It has to demonstrate the expanded options and opportunities that come by exploring career direction in high school rather than waiting until college. It has to capture the imagination of our young people and provide ongoing motivation to keep pushing toward the goals they set based on their own unique interests, talents, and abilities.”

Building a Competitive Advantage

The intersection of academic knowledge and technical skills is the single most important competitive advantage in today’s new economy. And yet, there remains a substantial Awareness Gap, not just among the Why Generation but also among educators and parents. They miss the point that by combining a robust high school education with in-demand technical training, today’s students can gain an edge in our increasingly global labor marketplace. But this isn’t just high school we’re talking about: the same advantages apply to those young people in middle school all the way up to adult learners. Everyone can benefit from the combination of enhanced academic and technical skills. This isn’t a surprise to those who work in the field of career and technical education, but it is news to many in our communities and country. And it’s news we need to make known.”

The Why Generation in the Workplace

How do you recruit, train, retain, and work with the Why Generation — the Millennials and Generation Z?

In a new, breakthrough book, Answering Why: Unleashing Passion, Purpose, and Performance in Younger Generations, by education strategist and business consultant Mark C. Perna, readers learn how to understand, nurture, and work with the youngest members of the workforce.

So what does the Why Generation want, according to the author? Higher pay, flexible work schedules, promotion within one year, and more vacation or personal time all make the list, but their single biggest desire is for purpose. “Young people today want to be part of something bigger than themselves, something they can believe in,” Perna says.

In addition, there is a generation gap that needs to be understood and bridged. “Many young people don’t want the same kinds of jobs their parents, or grandparents had,” he writes. “They aren’t as motivated by the safety and security of a good job. They want a job that has a purpose — that means something. They want a job that rewards them with experiences rather than just money, even as their college loan balances balloon.”

He’s observed — and found from his research — that the younger generations prefer group interactions to one-on-one interactions, so they work well in team-oriented situations. They are also good multi-taskers. Further, Perna notes: “Their uniqueness is undeniable and can be seen everywhere. They have customized and personalized their entire lives, as shown in the way they use technology and communicate via social media.”

So what do employers need to know about the Why Generation that will help them hire and retain the best workers?

1. A supportive education and work environment. The Why Generation needs active and firm support from both superiors and peers.

2. Formal structure is important since many members of the youngest generations have lived structured and orchestrated lives.

3. They will rely on interactive relationships. The Why Generation thrives on the steady use of technology to remain remarkably connected and informed.

4. Many younger workers get excited over the potential to engage in vigorous involvement for causes they believe in. They are socially conscious and environmentally responsible.

5. Respect today works the opposite of how it used to. Today’s youth require that you respect them first and then, and only then, will they mirror back that respect.

6. Young people often have very high expectations of everything in their lives except, seemingly, themselves. Yes, they want to perform at a high level but they need to buy into a shared vision and see themselves through the lens of high expectations to make that happen.

“Once we understand what moves the Why Generation to act — and we properly engage, inform, and train them — we’ll be able to increase productivity from our youngest workers,” says Perna.