Last week, I shared a story about a young man who completed an undergraduate degree in communications a couple of years ago. Like much of the class of 2008, Eric has had trouble landing steady work. It’s never easy to find that first real job. But it seemed to me that what Eric and his friends are going through is uniquely tough. There have been worse times to come out of school, of course. But today’s youth unemployment rate is alarmingly high. The latest Statistics Canada report puts the percentage of Canadians between 15 and 24 unemployed at 14.6%.
What’s it been like? Eric agreed to an interview with just one request: first-name only please. Hearing his story, it’s not hard to understand why.
What do you want to do, Eric?
I eventually want to get into journalism. Possibly writing about sports or music.
How’d you decide that?
Basically by default. I just want to do something that utilizes my degree and my strength, which is writing. I’m heavily interested in underground music and sports. Obviously I’d like to do something that I’m interested in. But if I could go back in time and change things, I probably would follow a different path. I’d probably go into science. There are so many more career opportunities right now, especially if you want to make a lot of money.
When we met, you talked about marketing and communications opportunities. Have you ruled that out?
No. I haven’t really ruled anything out at this point. I definitely want to use my degree and get a job. I’m trying to get into the marketing world or a communications career.
How’d you do at school?
Pretty well, I had about a B+ average.
You graduated in December 2008. What was that like?
At first, it wasn’t so bad. Right when I graduated, I got a contract – within a month. That was through connections. It was very intermittent work. I would only work about 20 hours a week and that lasted for about two months. It was for a non-profit in Toronto; I worked on the Internet [from Vancouver]. It was good. I was really happy I got that right away, and it made me really optimistic. After that it was just impossible to find anything for a long, long time.
As graduation approached, did you know what was happening on the job market?
Yes. I started looking in September, October 2008. It just seemed really bleak. I would look for organizations that I was interested in at first, and I was either getting no response or just really negative responses in terms of the possibility of even getting a meeting.
What did you hear?
I spoke with a few small communications firms in Vancouver. They were polite and everything, but they just told me that with my lack of experience, there was just no chance of getting into the company.
That must have been hard to hear.
It was really depressing. For a while I was really down about being unemployed.
I imagine your classmates were going through the same thing.
Totally. I lived with a few people who were in biology, and they’re doing very well right now. All my friends in communications are just suffering. No one’s getting anything permanent. It’s just contracts here and there, and most of the time it’s not really interesting work.
What did your teachers say?
Not too much. I remember reaching out to one professor because I wanted to use him as a reference. He taught a social justice class, so he was really into not-for-profit stuff. He recommended doing my own thing, which I did for a while. But I don’t know if that was the right thing to do. I did it for a long time and I couldn’t get any type of grant. Without grants, it is really hard to run a not-for-profit.
What were you trying to build?
I started a not-for-profit called Politican. It was to get youth more educated about politics, and not in a politically charged atmosphere. I wanted to change the way that young people are introduced to politics. We actually had a lot of success. We were using social media and holding events. It was pretty positive. We were building a website and everything, and we just ran out of money. Everyone got tired. It was hard: working whatever jobs we could find, and then meeting up four or five times a week. We worked every weekend. I definitely burned out.
You had to leave your home in Vancouver, by necessity.
I still want to go back there. My situation was a bit different. I had a health challenge at the time too. That had a lot to do with my decision to come back [to Toronto]. That, plus the hope that I’d get a better job.
How’s your health now?
I’ve gotten a lot better. I’m not 100%, but I’m definitely well enough to do whatever I want to do.
How stressful was all of this?
It was insane. It was crazy. I’ve never felt that type of stress in my life. I had a couple of panic attacks, and I’ve never been prone to anxiety. It was just an overwhelming situation. All the odds are against you. Everyone is just kind of pushing you and pushing you, and eventually you’re just pushed to the brink.
You’ve found work in Toronto.
Right now I’m working for a cell phone company. I’m doing their social media. It’s actually a pretty good job. I could see it eventually becoming some sort of full-time position. But right now it’s part-time. It’s not really super exciting, but it’s a good job right now. I get paid pretty well. I was working for a mining firm on a contract. It was just basically research. That lasted four or five months. The contract just ended.
You told me about experiences you and your friends have had with internships.
I have friends who worked [as interns] for larger companies. They were told they were doing great. But at the end of the year, the boss would say: “We’d love to hire you, but we can’t. We’re just going to get a new intern for your position.” One friend of mine had to train the new intern that was replacing her. I had [an internship] working for a bioethanol foundation. I was basically accepting any opportunity at that time. I worked there for about six or seven months. All my money had run out, I hadn’t seen a dollar from them. They were saying I’d make something from the foundation once they were able to accept money. They were going to give me 5%, which would have been a large figure. But I realized they were never going to get there.
How many hours did you work a week?
I was there nine to five, five days a week. I was trying to find another job at night. I couldn’t even get a job in a supermarket in Vancouver. It was crazy. Before I had the health problem, I taught martial arts on the side. That was decent money, I could charge about $50 an hour. But when I got sick, I just couldn’t do it anymore. That’s what paid my expenses through school. After that, it was clear I needed to change what I was doing.
If you could send a message to employers, what would it be?
Give people a chance. There are lots of smart young people like me. Obviously I don’t have years of experience, just because I haven’t been out of school long enough and there haven’t been jobs. But I know that people like me are capable. And it’s unfortunate that companies aren’t really interested in training someone that has the potential to be successful in their organization. You want to hire good people. You want to hire people who will stick with your organization, who are dedicated to it. I know people in my class are really motivated to stay in a job because it’s really hard to find one. If people would just give us a chance…
If you’d like to speak with Eric about a role with your organization, please contact me. I think you’ll be impressed.