Mark C. Perna’s Answering Why is an unusual book, but a clear labor of love. I am willing to hazard a guess that the author, Mark C. Perna, remembers his own emergence into the adult world and the bevy of questions haunting him during his initial forays into adulthood. Where do I belong? What should I be doing? He alludes to these concerns in the books dedication, perhaps the book’s most vulnerable moment, when he writes about his own sons and how their experience influenced and motivated him to write this volume. His willingness to confess fault and his pride are among the most disarming moments included in Answering Why.
His book wants to take a long in-depth look into how the current generation of young people, a group he labels Generation Z, exhibit different attitudes towards career building than their older counterparts and the effect this has on our modern national economy. He never assumes the tenor of a scolding teacher decrying the inefficacy of a younger generation when compared to their parents or even further; instead, Perna writes like a man who achieved an understanding of what motivates such attitudes rather than someone who looks to deconstruct and condemn. He adopts a number of familiar terms to explicate his reasoning – strategic planning, generational rifts, skills gap, awareness gap, and so forth. Moreover, he outlines for readers a step by step process he believes increases the chances of employers and educational professionals for connecting to the current generation of youth coming of age and searching for their place in the world.
In Perna’s estimation, longstanding philosophical flaws limit our capacity for developing thinkers and a vibrant workforce from the youth entering adulthood today. We have left this broken system unattended for decades and are beginning to bear rotten fruit as a result. As the baby boom generation retires, countless unfilled skill positions hamstring our national prosperity because the youth of today can discern no greater purpose to gain from such pursuits. Previous generations are taught, ultimately, to be grateful they can provide for their families, but societal changes are breeding young men and women today ready to question everything and our established response has failed evolving to answer their needs.
Perna, however, proposes a way out. His template is simple. We recognize the imminent crisis around us, but instead of closing shop and denying its presence, we allow those looming obstacles to embolden us. We plan and plot a response after considering the lay of the land and put our plans into action. Perna, along the way, provides societal context for this issue and never plays either side against one another. His concerns are, in the end, altruistic. It makes this book a work you can revisit over time and has applications extending far beyond the purview of employment and education. Answering Why says a lot about the overall world we live in today and spares us any of the high handed condescension we might endure from someone examining the issue in superficial fashion. It’s an important work, accessible, and focused on the issue at hand.