It’s been 25 years since the release of the romantic comedy Four Weddings and a Funeral. I saw it again last week and the film hasn’t lost any of its original appeal. It’s not just the fabulous 90s fashions and hairstyles, or because Hugh Grant is preposterously charming or his friends are the friends you’ve always wanted to hang out with at weddings and funerals: fun, loving, sorrowful, and so bloody English. It’s because Four Weddings is a timeless story about timing.
Timing is everything, and in Four Weddings the protagonists’ timing is terrible. Across four weddings and a funeral, Hugh Grant and Andie McDowell are like ships passing in the night (“We could've been married by now if you'd just rung me”). The final wedding in the film is Hugh Grant’s to ex-girlfriend “Duckface” where Andie McDowell shows up and jars him with the news that she’s left her husband.
Andie McDowell: Our timing really has been bad, hasn’t it?
Hugh Grant: It’s been bad.
Andie McDowell: It’s been a disaster.
Hugh Grant: It has, as you say, been very bad indeed. God it’s lovely to see you.
So he jilts Duckface at the altar.
It may seem trite to say that Hugh and Andie wouldn’t have ended up happily ever after without (literally) four weddings and a funeral. But it’s clear that any one or two such ceremonies wouldn’t have yielded the desired outcome. Their timing was “very bad indeed” and it’s only a result of repeated interactions that they were able to make the match, albeit with “unspeakably disastrous” consequences.
If timing is essential for marriage, it’s equally true of the second most important relationship in your life: the match with your employer. And if you’re a new or recent graduate, that probably means your first employer. Successfully launching a career often requires a strange confluence of events. It means being in the right place at the right time. It’s about being exposed to ideas, industries, and organizations, meeting the right people, and hopefully getting an opportunity to demonstrate your talents to a willing employer with an immediate hiring need. My first job in higher education at Columbia University was the result of four distinct coincidences, all within a matter of months.
Sadly, America’s cult of the bachelor’s degree unnaturally restricts the timeframe for these confluences, coincidences, and repeated interactions with prospective employers. America’s colleges and universities continue to lead students down the primrose path of years of academic coursework, counting on a great job to miraculously appear at the end of the degree program (probably following a visit or two to the super-helpful career services office). Some students take summer jobs, but fewer than prior generations; most continue to press their luck come graduation time.
Today’s students broadly recognize that if they don’t get a good first job, they’re much less likely to get a good second, third, fourth, and fifth job. But when it comes to getting a good first job, students aren’t meeting prospective employers at five ceremonies (four weddings and a funeral) across a number of years. For most students, there’s only one ceremony – graduation – and the period for employment serendipity is extremely limited. The result is often less four weddings and a funeral than four years and a funeral of underemployment. Or in Four Weddings-speak, Hugh Grant marries Duckface.
Beyond continuing to promote unpaid internships (illegal unless the employer is a nonprofit organization or interns receive college credits), there is a solution that significantly broadens the timeframe and increases the confluences, coincidences, and interactions that lead to good first jobs: incorporating real work into academic programs.
Like higher education itself, incorporating work into coursework can take two forms: on-ground, and online. On-ground examples are co-op programs like those run most famously by University of Waterloo in Canada, or Northeastern University. Students are given the option to work at a participating employer for a number of months, completing one or more projects, gaining experience, and building potentially invaluable relationships. Five co-op experiences over four years could be the equivalent of Four Weddings and a Funeral: even if your timing is disastrous, multiple shots on goal mean you may still end up together like Hugh and Andie. The challenge, of course, is that organizing these programs – getting the time and attention of employers at a scale to accommodate all students – is a Herculean feat for academic institutions.
Fortunately, in the past few years a more realistic option has emerged for integrating work into programs of study: online marketplaces that connect employers with colleges and universities. These marketplaces make it easy for employers to engage, either because they have real projects students can complete, or because they’re eager to try out students for the purpose of reducing “Hiring Friction” i.e., the reduced propensity of employers to hire candidates who literally haven’t done the same job before, and the reason so many entry-level jobs seem to be asking for experience.
Riipen is the leading platform in this sector. Unlike virtually every other education-to-employment company seeking to connect employers with career services or directly to students, Riipen connects employers to the beating heart of the university: faculty. Employers post projects like survey design, digital market plans, collateral creation, UI/UX design, big data analysis, and even tax strategy development; faculty are shown the projects that are most relevant for their own courses. Alternatively, faculty can propose their own projects for employers to select. When a match is made, projects become mandatory coursework and more students complete them. More active students on the platform attract more employers, and the marketplace flywheel is off and running. In the past year, Riipen has seen an order of magnitude increase in platform usage by employers, faculty, and students.
Whether colleges and universities undertake to construct their own regional employer network à la Waterloo or Northeastern or use Riipen to access a national or international network, they have a responsibility to students to provide several integrated employer experiences over the course of a bachelor’s degree program. With the ensuing interactions, confluences, and coincidences, happily ever after becomes a much likelier outcome.
It appears I’m not the only one still watching Four Weddings and a Funeral. Mindy Kaling of The Office fame has just launched a TV show loosely based on the film. In the new Hulu series – the Hugh Grant character is a London-based investment banker and the son of immigrants from Pakistan. Awful at relationships (like Hugh Grant), he jilts his American bride at the altar. Then at the behest of his father, he turns to his Imam to arrange meetings with eligible Muslim girls. After one chaperoned date, the Imam suggests a meeting of the families.
Hugh Grant character: I just don’t want to rush things. Yes, I enjoyed spending time with Fatima. But do I want to marry her? It was only one date. Am I ready for our families to meet?
Imam: OK. Just go out again… It’s not my job to trick young people into lifelong commitments… I’m not T-Mobile.
As classes recommence across the country, millions of Americans are starting or continuing learning commitments that last four, five, or six years, and where the resulting student loan debt may be lifelong. Which raises a question that is neither romantic nor comedic: in enrolling students in bachelor’s degree programs without work experience integrated into coursework – i.e., failing to allow for the confluences, coincidences, and repeated interactions with employers that are typically required to land a good first job – are colleges and universities tricking young people like T-Mobile?