Today's economy

Generation Y… can’t I find a decent job

By Kevin Press, BrighterLife.ca

Comments (26)

Three and a half years after launching Today’s economy, the interview I remember most vividly was a young man who struggled to find work after graduating from university in 2008. Eric completed an undergraduate degree in communications, but he’d come to regret that because he couldn’t find steady work. Just two years after graduation, he was disillusioned. “[I]f I could go back in time and change things, I probably would follow a different path,” he told me. “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.”

Image of a generation Y-aged woman looking for work.That kind of pragmatism isn’t normally required of kids in their early 20s, but then Eric had good reason for getting over his dream of writing for a living. After moving back and forth between short-term contracts and unpaid internships, the stress had gotten to him.

“It was insane,” Eric said. “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.”

Eric’s not alone, according to a new report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Unemployment among 15- to 24-year-olds was 16.1% across OECD countries this past April. That’s more than double the total unemployment rate among workers.

In Canada, unemployment among young adults has been stuck around 15% since July 2009 when employment rates hit a low across the country. Our national unemployment rate is 7.2%.

I called Nancy Schaefer, president of Youth Employment Services to learn more about the implications of these numbers. Established in 1968, Schaefer’s organization was the country’s first youth employment counselling centre. Today it serves more than 110,000 young Canadians.

The difference between this recession and previous recessions is the pace of the recovery, Schaefer said. “It’s like a jobless recovery for young people.”

Extended periods of unemployment are never easy. But they can be especially damaging in the early years of a career, when professionals ought to be gaining experience and establishing themselves financially.

“Some young people are getting good degrees and good job-specific skills,” said Schaefer. “If they’re not able to apply that learning and use the enthusiasm and passion they have in their 20s, what happens to their motivation? What happens to their vision of the future? What’s going to happen to our country if we don’t have a generation of young people in the workforce?”

Underemployment can be just as harmful. Many young adults are resorting to the kind of service-sector jobs they depended on to get through school because they lack other options. Schaefer’s frustration, after years of helping young, discouraged Canadians is palpable. “This has to be on the public’s agenda. We have to pay close attention to this issue.”

You can help. Visit the Youth Employment Services website for information on mentoring, sponsorships and donations.


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B on

The government should NOT be accountable. When you make the choice to major in something “useless but enjoyable”, YOU are accountable. The entitlement in our youth (16-23) is just insane at this point, and its going to continue until parents realize children need tough love and a parent, not a friend

Lorraine on

As an employer in the service sector, I can tell you a major reason that Generation Y is underemployed is that they pursued education without thought to career options. They all seem to want to work in ‘not for profit’ and fail to understand that there just aren’t that many jobs for a person with a Masters in woman studies/transgendered legal issues (really I had a girl with that as her major who had a big chip on her shoulder about having to do service work). High schools seem to only gear kids with ‘learning issues’ towards the trades rather than the huge number of smart kids who would rather work with their hands. As well so many fine arts grads but no one going into artistic trades like finish carpentry.

Sansu on

I entered the work force in the last serious recession around 1990 when the unemployment rate was higher than it is today, or was in 2008. I remember people were concerned, but I sure don’t remember this level of hand wringing and complaining.

Our expectations were different. We didn’t expect to immediately land our dream job, work for a few years then buy a house in our 20’s. We didn’t expect a 6-figure position after only working a few years. I had a huge bulge of population directly ahead of me, the baby boomers, and there wasn’t much room left for those coming immediately after. I knew this when I was getting my education, so I did something practical. Something that would get me a job. Not a degree in communications. Not a degree in history or political science or that most overcrowded of professions, law. My degree wasn’t my preferred path, but I needed to be employable because no one was there to pay my way through life except me. I never believed the lie that if you do what you love, money will follow. I sympathize, I really do. But if you aren’t born rich, life is a struggle and it is getting increasingly hard.

Be practical, work hard AND smart. Strategize. Be prepared to change direction as needed. Be prepared to constantly upgrade your skills. Be prepared to move to the jobs, no matter where they might be. Also be prepared to take that job that you consider beneath you. Go in with a great attitude, do a good job and ensure that people enjoy working with you. The contacts you make working are your most important resource and they are how you are going to find your next job, and your next, and your next after that for the rest of your working life.

ABC on

This simply highlights part of the problem Universities fail to acknowldege. They willingly pump out thousands of graduates each year in programs that have minimal job prospects. Moreover, they continue to repeat the mantra that each graduate will be the “leader of tomorrow” because they have degree in their faculty at that University. We need to start holding Governments and Post Secondary Institutes more accountable by linking funding to programs where demand is high. Afterall, students really pay a small percentage of the real cost of the program with the vast majority coming through taxes. Have you ever noticed how many teachers are turned out each year and how many actually get work as teachers (apart from small numbers of hours as substitutes)?

Dan on

It would be easier but the advanced of the retirement age until 67 means all of these individuals who have worked in the private (and especially) public sector and are thus very financially secure are leaching every last penny. If they were to simply retire, the next cohort of individuals could fill their shoes, thereby making room for new hires. Rising tide floats all boats, we just have a few selfish individuals damming the waterways.

    David B on

    Dan – most of us (57 here) cannot retire. I paid for 3 kids through college and have one left to go
    I’d like to have some cash when I stop. And even if we all retire tomorrow, the whiners who have no employable skills and the mental attitude of a beaten boxer won’t get those jobs anyway. 2,000,000 educated Asians and South Asians whose parents didn’t say “Oh you’re special” when they got 50’s in Math and straight A’s in “Call of Duty” will get those jobs. So please stop blaming anyone but yourself – ignore the entitled current paradigm and go look the companies you want to work for. Then find a crappy job to get in the door and then impress the hell out of your boss with how engaged and dedicated you are to being the best crapologist in the place. You won’t stay there for long.

Northern Scout on

Face it, many members of generation Y are gamers. They don’t know how to spell or carry a conversation further than a tweet, can’t balance their check book, don’t even want to move away from home to take a job. If they marry they want the wife to move in with them and their mom and dad. Let me go on – they can’t fix a flat or repair the basic plumbing problems like a leaky sink, haven’t replaced a spark plug, don’t know whether mom and dad’s car should take regular or high octane and why. Don’t have a library card and think all they need to know or learn is available on the computer.

    sheena on

    okay, I’m a late boomer and have hired all the x’s and the y’s and I agree. Motivate yourselves and get off your X and Y’s…

Christopher on

Kevin, the problem isn’t new. It’s been a basic truth of our society since the early ’90s a and unfortunately if GenX is getting the table scraps, GenY is getting the crumbs. I have plenty of friends with degrees working call centre jobs they should have left 20 years ago but there’s simple no work out there, or the work is so specialized that only a few of us can do it.

ab aeternitate on

I graduated Class of 2008. It took me three years to get a “real” job, though I was never actually out of work for more than two months. I did everything from cutting grass, telemarketing, selling clothes. I even set up my own business for a winter selling clothes because I was only working parttime. Many of the young people I know simply went out and acquired marketable skills themselves. A roommate from university made videos for a community non-profit. Another friend taught himself web design. I taught myself content writing and ecommerce.

After a while you realize that nobody is going to hire just your degree. Of course, nobody told you this in high school. The teachers said that if you study hard in university then you’ll walk out with a good job. And I GOT a job out of university, but was laid off a few months later. I was only 22 and I thought my life was over. We’re going to have to rethink the way we approach our careers. A degree or even a diploma doesn’t count much anymore. The idea that you can marry at 24, and buy a house and start a family just isn’t feasible anymore. My grandparents did that (Papa was 27, Grammy was 24) and Grammy never worked again in her life. My grandfather made $4000/year in 1950 and on that he supported a mortgage (his house cost $8000), wife, and baby. Adjusted for inflation that’s about $38,000 in 2012. I’m 26, make $37,000/year, live in North York and live with roommates. There’s no way I could support a mortgage or family on what I make.

dude on

LEt’s be honest here – the reason there are no jobs is because there are so many baby boomers and old people dominating the workforce and simply not bringing new ideas and energy to the table. Instead they are looking to stretch out the last few years of their careers to pad their wallets for retirement. I don’t blame them but it is coming at the cost of the growth of young people. The baby boomers really think they are special but they’ve left a lifestyle to young generations that is dearly self-centered and fairly ruthless.

    annelevyward on

    Excuse me — I’m a second-half baby boomer who has spent the last few years paying my share of taxes and helping put my children through school. Now I’m working to pay my day-to-day living expenses and to save money for my retirement so I won’t be a burden to society or my children when I do retire — and I’m still paying plenty of taxes. I’m using the skills and experience I’ve built up over the course of my career to make a useful contribution to my employer and to my community — and to coach and mentor my younger co-workers. You want my job? You’ll have to prove that you can do it better than I can.

      Logic on

      Annlevyward: You want us to prove it? Voluntarily give up your job for 6 weeks. I’m sure if you are as good as you think you are, the young lad will be fired and you will be rehired. Or are you afraid to step aside? Yeah…that’s what I thought. Hypocrite.

    David B on

    You actually blame others for your inability to thrive? Well then I blame it on the general malaise in parenting of our “special children”. I pushed all my kids out the door with college or university educations and said “love you, you have skills, prosper – don;t come back” and then I downsized – FAST! And they all have (3 – 31, 28, 26) in their own ways.

    I don’t have a job and haven’t since I was 23. I made a job and work hard even now every day to keep it making money. So there’s no job in your field? Tough, move into something else by reading, learning or modifying what you already have for education and skills to make a decent living and be a contributing member of society.

    And as for boomers plugging up the jobs – there aren’t enough competent candidates to fill highly-skilled jobs or higher end management jobs so we keep importing Asian and South Asian talent. Learn math, sciences, business, engineering – the hard stuff or law or economics. Then tell me you are having a hard time getting a job

    Quit whining, gaming and asking for hand outs and bust ass looking for the lowest job on the totem pole of someplace that you would lke to be CEO of and then work and STAY PUT untl you get there are at least get to a place where you are satisfied with your life

J-Grinhale on

Thank you for this article. It is nice to know that I am not alone. I just recently graduated university, and haven’t been able to get a job for quite some time now. I have been hitting the pavement, as well as talking to people face-to-face. I’ve been to different employment help centers, attended job workshops, etc. Like Eric, I’ve felt overwhelmed, and wondered if my 7 years of post-secondary was worth it. However, I am not giving up. I refuse to be labeled as the lazy, generation y-er. Something will open up, and I’ll be ready.

    kevinpress on

    I really appreciate your note J. Education always pays off eventually, I’m convinced of that.

    I had an interesting discussion about this three years ago with Glen Hodgson, chief economist at The Conference Board of Canada. He told me that when economies turn soft, continuing your education always make sense: “Fundamentally, Canadians understand the need to invest in themselves, and by that I mean if you’re a young Canadian, stay in school as long as you can afford it and as long as you’re interested. The return on investment in human capital is very important.”

    I posted something today you might find helpful: http://brighterlife.ca/2012/07/23/eleven-job-search-tips-for-young-adults/

John Rose on

Each persons definition of ‘decent’ in the term “decent job” is different. Many highly skilled and educated individuals are pounding their keyboards/touch screens/phone screens searching and communicating, fewer are pounding the pavement and meeting/talking with people. I too regularly meet and talk with Young Adults and hear the same thing – “I can’t find the work I am looking for!”, when asked what it is, where they want to work and what they want to get paid for doing the work – at least 1 of the 3 are unobtainable. When this is pointed out, I often hear “Well! that what I want / am looking for”. My advise to anyone looking for work, never give up, always smile and remember that there is always someone worse of than yourself, and finally, get off the computer/mobile device and meet and talk with people…

    kevinpress on

    Thanks John, that’s great advice. I did a follow-up interview with Eric today (please watch for that post on Wednesday). I asked him about the expectations young adults have today, and his answer was interesting. He admits that some are unrealistic, but the stories he told me about how hard he and his friends are working to establish themselves struck are pretty disheartening. I think their frustration is understandable, and in many cases warranted.

David H on

While I fully sympathize, it is worth remembering the youth unemployment was higher in the early 1990’s and we made it through. Every generation has it’s challenges.

    kevinpress on

    Thanks David. You make a fair point, it’s always more difficult to find work early in one’s career. I think organizations like YES, and people like you and me, have a role to play to help young adults learn how to conduct a job search. In the final analysis though, it’s up to the candidate him or herself.

David on

Kevin, this is a great article. The only comment I have for the young graduates out there is DO NOT GIVE UP! At times it does seem very bleak, but if these kids keep persuing work, it will show drive and determination that employers love to see. The minute they give up, they will be viewed as quitters and not reliable employees.

I recently met with a senior VP at St. Michael’s Hospital, and he asked me how I was able to secure that meeting with him. I told him that I cold called the office, and he seemed very impressed with that. He was also able to provide me with some suggestions and passed my name along to a couple of contacts. It is so important to demonstrate the ‘go get it’ attitude, and you never know where it could lead you!

    kevinpress on

    Thanks David, I think you have it exactly right. Your point about networking is especially critical. I’m always impressed by how generous professional people will be with their time when it comes to helping colleagues (of any age) who are out of work. It never, ever hurts to ask.

      David B on

      I have always believed that if you work hard enough you will get where you want to be. I hit employment age in the early 70’s where there was 25% youth unemployment in my region. I still got a job (crappy job, but a job) and used that to go to college. During college (journalism/communications) I worked 30 hours a week of paid an unpaid internships to build my portfolio. I also got honors overall. I partied but not too hearty. And I got a very good job after I was done and I worked like a sick person to get it. Of my 3 adult sons – 2 who are not entitled and lazy are doing just fine, my 26-yr-old baby finally decided (his words) to come in off the beach and he is now working, making money, paying for his own place and life and going back to college

      The unemployment numbers need to reflect 21 to 14 year olds not 15 to 24. At 21 if you have finished a degree and you are still struggling to find work then we need to see that in the numbers. But if you’re a 15 or 16 year old and you can’t get a part-time job or are a high school dropout and can’t get a job – tough. Get more education and look harder for a job and be creative at it.

      Sorry to sound old and “better days gone by” but when I couldn’t find a decent job at 23 (when my newspaper went broke) I started doing my own business and have made a decent living ever since. Stay creatve, flexible and keep learning all the time and life can be good

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