The job market sucks, but you can still be the person who gets hired
// Samantha Thompson

University is supposed to be a place of higher education. It is here that you are meant to challenge definitions and think for yourself. It is meant to be a place that you come to because you enjoy learning. Failing that, university is the place that people come to in order to get a degree so that they are given the key to unlock the door to well-paying jobs and dream careers. Yet there is a concern that degrees have become commonplace, and that a piece of paper for your parents to display proudly on their wall is no longer enough.

Unemployment sits at a rate of 7.5 per cent nationally and the economy is coming out of a recession, but unfortunately, it seems as though the people most concerned with this unsettling trend are, obviously, the people without jobs.

However, on Jan. 20, the three generations that came together at the XYBOOM conference aimed to challenge this perception. The conference, which took place in downtown Vancouver, brought together over 200 people from three generations: the Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Gen Y. The event aimed to break down perceptions and stereotypes the generations had about each other, particularly in relation to the job market.

“If we had a solution, I don’t know that we’d be here today,” says Tammy Tsang, Executive Director of XYBOOM, in the opening panel of the conference.

Although unemployment is slowly declining, there is no guarantee that graduation guarantees us our dream job. As the conference emphasized, oftentimes the piece of paper alone is not enough to get you the job you’ve always wanted. Which leaves us still with a very unsettling thought: are we on the right path? And, most importantly, where are we supposed to go next?

The XYBOOM conference came together because a group of individuals saw that there was a significant problem with youth unemployment rates, and that a solution needed to be found, quickly.

“It was really obvious that this was an issue that wasn’t being addressed, and any individuals either did not want to address it or did not have time to address it,” says Tsang.

She and her peers came up with the concept of an inter-generational conference, and then successfully applied for funding from Services Canada. The event brought together experts from a variety of different fields, and hosted panels and discussions on everything from problems with the job market to the importance of inter-generational conversation.

“You kind of see it bloom into what you’ve worked so hard towards, which is meaningful conversation [and] inter-generational solution based results, and that’s the most beneficial part of running a conference of this size: you get the opportunity to work with the team for over a year, and then you get to really grow together and then you are all working towards one similar goal, which is finding a solution.”

Although finding a solution to such a pressing problem immediately is impossible, a majority of participants appeared to be excited by the conference and the conversations that were taking place – which was emphasized by the overwhelmingly positive Twitter feed.

“Almost everybody said that they were satisfied with the conference … most of them said they had been re-inspired to do something about this issue,” says Tsang. “So, I do believe we were able to positively impact the public, the way we sought out to.”

According to StatsCan, youth unemployment (ages 15-24) is currently at 14.1 per cent, which is equivalent to almost half a million people. This is noteworthy, especially as unemployment drops down to 6.2 per cent for people aged 25-54.

Unemployment and underemployment is a problem, but the solution is a difficult one. People are retiring later, seniors are returning to work for the benefit of social interaction, and there is a skills shortage which resulted in 178,640 temporary foreign workers being brought into Canada in 2009 alone. On top of it all, more people are leaving B.C. than those who are staying. The demands on the job market are heavy, and yet we still have a high unemployment rate.

Certainly, we’re working towards degrees because a post-secondary education is supposed to help us get our foot in the door, to be the thing that differentiates us from everyone else who didn’t shell out ridiculous amounts of money for a degree. As the job market becomes frequently more competitive, though, graduates are finding themselves in jobs they didn’t want, all because the degree alone is no longer enough.

“The value of an education is huge, but there are so many more factors,” one of the panelists pointed out as participants began discussing the shifting dynamics of the job market.

They pointed out that it is important to remember that the top executives didn’t start at the top – they began at the bottom and worked their way up. If you can get your foot in the door, you can demonstrate what you can do.

Unfortunately, there is a gap between what you’re being taught in school versus what employers are actually looking for.

“Your university is doing everything they can to get you a job once you graduate,” says Tsang, adding that upon graduation, all those opportunities quickly disappear.

Statistics show that post-secondary education does affect your probability of getting a job, to some degree. 61.8 per cent of people who graduated high school are employed, 60.3 per cent with some post secondary education, 71 per cent with a certificate or a diploma, 74.5 per cent with a Bachelor’s degree, and 75.4 per cent of people who have continued their education beyond a Bachelor’s degree are employed. Although the statistics are promising, the panelists emphasized that you can’t expect to graduate with a degree alone and get hired, but the value of a degree should not be underestimated.
“Do not forgo post-secondary education, if at all possible,” says Shoshana Somerville, the Employability Coach at Capilano’s Student Employment Services. “University degrees are absolutely worth it.”

Somerville recommends that students gain experience through volunteering, working part time, summer jobs, and internships. While she acknowledges that education should come first, “it is essential to learn effective time management skills to make education a priority and get work experience.”

“If you don’t have a degree, you won’t even be considered for a lot of positions, so in that regard I think it is quite important to have it,” says Tsang. “Maybe in the way that we’ve perceived it, as the 'end all', may not be accurate anymore. It’s important to have that degree; whether it’s the ticket to your dream job or to a job in general, I don’t necessarily believe that anymore. I do believe that it is one of the mandatory items you must have in addition to experience.”

“Experience and education go hand-in-hand,” says Somerville. “Employers look for both qualities. You won’t get very far if you have one without the other.”

When looking at advertisements for your “dream job”, it can be disheartening because the skills they require are nowhere near to the skill level you are currently at. The biggest problem is when jobs request five to ten years experience in the field – something that is impossible to gain if no one will hire you at entry level.

Yet, there are alternatives. Tsang, who also founded her own company, My Loud Speaker, established the company so that her peers would eventually have the opportunity to move on to other jobs because it would provide them with experience on their resume.

“My company … was founded because a lot of my peers were unemployed. It was kind of a solution to employ some of them and help them find bigger, better jobs because there was a minimum required two years experience,” says Tsang.

However, being the best candidate for the position\ relies on a lot more than work experience – you have to be able to prove that you know what you’re talking about because you’ve done it yourself.

“Gain as much real world experience as possible … It’s important to get that ‘A’ and know what you’re studying,” says Tsang, “but it’s also very important to actually gain experience: instead of just knowing how to talk about it, you know how to do it. The workplace will challenge you in that way; it’s all about what you do and less about what you say.”

Because of the high unemployment rate, employers can afford to be picky when selecting their new employees. When speaking about employability skills, the panelists suggested that if you show to your employer that you need a job, they won’t want you. Conversely, if you demonstrate that you want the job, they’re more likely to want you because you’re going to be passionate about what you’re doing instead of simply showing up in order to pay the bills.

“If you’re doing something you hate, there will be no reward,” one of the panelists pointed out. “What your reward is, it’s going to change over time.”

It is important to be open with your employers and let them know what is going to make a difference for you. Even if the job you have now isn’t the one you want in the long run, it can still help you by giving you a skill set that can be transferred into a different field later on. One of the panelists found it very easy to go from being a correctional officer to a flight attendant, pointing out that they had the same transferable skill set which made her an ideal candidate for the position.

As students at a post-secondary institution, we have a unique set of tools and opportunities available to us right here on campus. One of the resources includes Capuano’s Student Employment Services, where students go to get a variety of information, including how to find a job post-graduation, which companies are receptive to students, creating a resume, discovering skill sets, and resolving work-related conflicts.

“Don’t be afraid to reach out to the variety of experts that you have on campus, from your profs to your counselors … not in the obnoxious ‘I’m trying to get a job' way, but in the way that you actually want to build relationships,” says Tsang. “It’s through truthful relationships that you’ll get far, not through networking by just handing them your card.”

“In order to get ahead, it’s unfortunately who you know as well, and … you get to know more people by actually getting out there as much as possible.”

Even though we don’t have a solution for the unemployment problem, we can be proactive and use all the tools we have to help ensure that we end up where we want to be in our careers. Generations aside, unemployment is something that affects all of us. The sooner we recognize that, the closer we will be to finding answers to all of the burning questions we have about the future.

“The labour market continues to be very unstable, and it is difficult to predict when this may change,” says Somerville. “The best defense for unemployment will always be education. It will continue to be very challenging to secure meaningful employment without a post-secondary degree.”

The most important thing to realize is that we’re in a different era of employment. It’s new and exciting, but because everyone is still figuring it out, it is also hard. The least any of us can do is try.

“I wouldn’t be who I am today if it wasn’t for all the things that I’ve gone through, and I am thankful for all the obstacles that I’ve gone through because it makes you a more dynamic person,” says Tsang. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned, you want to fail as much as possible, so that you burn … [It’s how you get] the most robust knowledge and experience.”

//Samantha Thompson, editor-in-chief
//Graphics by Sarah Taylor

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© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com