The endless theories about the dire state of Millennials entering the job market are unavoidable. Columnists gleefully exclaim that we’re a lost generation, that we’re lazy and entitled. More gently, but not particularly hopefully, others state we were just dealt an unlucky hand and happen to be graduating at the “wrong time.”
[pullquote]“We all know of people who only had one career in mind, studied it with vigor, only to be burned once entering the field, realizing it wasn’t what they wanted. I planned to apply to graduate school immediately after I finished my undergraduate degree, but realized that all of the theory I learned would be meaningless if I wasn’t able to apply it in the real world.”[/pullquote]
The fact is that Canada is currently experiencing an unemployment rate of some 14.7 per cent for youth age 15 to 24, close to double the 7.4 per cent figure for the nation as a whole according to Statistics Canada. The number could actually be a lot larger, as Canada’s unemployment statistics only account for those collecting unemployment insurance or welfare. As fourth- and fifth-year students face the looming specter of graduation only a few months away (or the more imminent deadline of grad school applications), these statistics can become a whole lot more frightening. It is clear that our expectations need to loosen and adapt to these changing conditions, as do those of our parents, many of whom still assume that a smooth school-to-work transition is guaranteed when you have a degree in hand. The truth is, the path to “adulthood” is a lot shakier.
It’s easy to judge yourself and others for not being able to land an ideal job right out of university. Panic mode often sets in during the last few months of one’s post-secondary career, and the more months that go by without school or work, the more you can start to feel like a deadbeat graduate with nothing going for you. This pressure can warp how you handle such a personal conflict. The search for worthwhile opportunities can quickly lead to confusion over whether to wait to start a profession, or work other jobs (i.e. the service industry) to make ends meet.
Edil, a 2010 U of T graduate with a double-major in Political Science and Anthropology, experienced these problems while bouncing between various short term positions after graduation. Once she finished her degree, Edil found a short-term job at as a Community Organizer with Toronto ACORN, a non-profit organization focused on tenant rights advancement.
“After a few months with ACORN, I was unemployed for about five to six months. But for all the headache and grief it caused me, I became much more introspective and thoughtful about the things that mattered most.”
After that, Edil took advantage of two more temporary opportunities — a research position at Canada Council for The Arts and a job as a youth worker leader with Tropicana Community Services’ Summer Jobs for Youth. Eventually, Edil received a more stable year long contract as a research coordinator with Educational Attainment West.
“Those posts took up my almost two years away from school. I am currently a graduate student. Although social science degrees are notorious for their unfocused career streaming, they do allow for graduates to try a variety of fields before they plan to commit to one,” she said. “We all know of people who only had one career in mind, studied it with vigor, only to be burned once entering the field, realizing it wasn’t what they wanted. I planned to apply to graduate school immediately after I finished my undergraduate degree, but realized that all of the theory I learned would be meaningless if I wasn’t able to apply it in the real world.”
Alternatively, many recent graduates choose to bypass the job hunt for more school. With ample working years still ahead of them, continuing studies can provide students with more time to think through their future career goals. Political science specialist, Anupa, went straight into a two year post-grad journalism program at Humber College when she graduated from U of T in 2006.
“I enjoyed the journalism program, but it was more about me not knowing what I wanted to do and turning to more school as a solution. It was kind of a kick in the ass. I was panicked; I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my degree or how to break into the industry. After I graduated from the program, I got a job doing digital marketing and a writing job on the side.”
Unable to find a 9–5 job in their preferred field of study, students either retreat into another degree or find a job that pays the bills but doesn’t necessarily utilize their skill set. Anupa worked in digital media during the day and devoted extra time outside the standard workweek to develop her writing portfolio. Though stressful, pressure like this can sometimes be beneficial, making time spent on writing or other fulfilling projects special, and motivating you to work harder on your goals.
Anupa recently started a new job as an associate producer with CBC Music, and she plans to stick with media as her line of work down the road. Anupa loved her time at U of T but isn’t so sure she would pursue a post-grad program if she could do it all over again.
“Journalism school helped me, but would I have done it again knowing what I know? Sure. But you can break into journalism without doing post-grad. It was kind of a waste of money. That’s something to consider, and it’s important for me because I’m not loaded.”
Then there are graduates who decide to look for work outside their own country. If re-claiming your parents’ furnished basement is a big no-no, spending money on a plane ride to your dream destination is an investment to seriously consider. Sahar, a 2012 U of T graduate armed with a double-major in cinema studies and political science, travelled to Jordan in September to work on her film portfolio. Sahar, who in light of her situation abroad asked that her real name not be used, met like-minded students and had great success making a short film with the use of local resources and acting talent in Amman. What was intended as a short visit until October was extended to January after Sahar found work with a film production company, assisting a team of writers with the development of TV shows and web series. Sahar also got the opportunity to act as a production assistant on sets for several small films, commercials, and educational ads for local companies. The closest Sahar ever got to this kind of hands-on experience in Toronto was her part-time position as an audio visual technician trainee at Innis Town Hall’s projection booth.
Of course, moving to a new country involves learning to adapt to a new environment rather quickly. Travelling will do that, forcing you to take responsibility for yourself and face working relations and circumstances that aren’t the norm in North America. From time to time, Sahar has dealt with less-than-positive feedback while on the job, surrounded by all of her colleagues.
“Doing this job the first time around, I definitely made mistakes and people got frustrated. But you need to keep your cool and act professional in high stress situations. Put your fears to the side and be efficient instead of dwelling and getting upset, because there will be people who treat you like shit.”
Sahar’s next steps include higher learning, most likely pursuing a master’s degree in creative writing. Sahar is glad she chose to study both political science and film at U of T as it gave her a lot to work off of.
“Being Iranian and working in Jordan, I can work through controversial political issues in a creative capacity and reach out to a wide audience in a more diplomatic manner. When you cushion political issues with a creative outlet, your reach grows dramatically.”
For others, there’s no rush to jet off towards foreign sunsets fresh off of the U of T train. With hefty loans weighing on the minds of many graduates, travelling abroad is not only a daunting prospect, it’s also not the most practical use of their limited funds. Alumna Sonal felt the same way when she graduated from U of T in 2010 (due to the nature of her future plans, Sonal asked not be identified). She spent the summer job-hunting for pretty much anything. She got an interview with a PR firm, which went beautifully, and she worked there as an intern for three months before getting a full-time placement. She’s been working the grind as a social media analyst ever since.
“When I got there, everyone was a graduate from Humber. My friends were all either unemployed, starting their master’s, or doing a shitty job they didn’t like.”
Sonal’s plans for the near future involve moving to France next spring to teach English. She’s even enlisted a tutor to help spiff up her high school level French skills before the big move, a testament to the very real opportunities available to those hoping to upgrade and continue learning later in life. Graduates shouldn’t get bogged down with the idea that they’ll be locked into one career trajectory their entire lives.
“I had a lot of wanderlust in university but I couldn’t afford to take a vacation. I knew the only way I could do that was by becoming financially independent,” Sonal said. “My ability to travel was dependent on me paying for it. In order for me to do that, I needed to adopt a sort of traditional route. PR isn’t something I thought I would do but it’s comfortable.
It’s not my dream job but it lets me travel and leave Toronto, and being a “starving artist” working at a coffee shop wouldn’t allow me to do that. Now that I’ve been in this field for the past two years, I definitely know this isn’t what I want to do. But moving to France wouldn’t be a possibility if I didn’t pay my dues and work first.”
Such a bold transition between jobs is actually quite typical of Millennials. According to a recent survey by Future Workplace, the majority of young employees expect to stay in a job for less than three years, meaning you’ll probably have amassed a wealth of experience before settling down in a profession past young adulthood. You might not land your dream job right out of school, but remember that other jobs still yield experience, adventure, and opportunities for advancement. The graduates featured above suggest that there is more than one way of doing things, and many paths that can lead to your destination.