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It's Not the Labour Market -- It's You

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Sit down, take a nice cold sip of your iced grande half-caff sugar-free non-fat vanilla hazelnut latte, turn off Angry Birds on your iPhone 5, and pay attention, 'cause Gen Y? We need to talk.

You see, Millennials -- or those born between 1981 and 2000 -- have an interesting relationship with the state of employment in Canada. We've all heard it -- they're unemployed, underemployed and underpaid, and have a penchant for complaining about their gloomy state of employment. And the media doesn't have a problem reminding them of it.

And as a member of the demographic, I'm all too familiar with the depiction of my generation as lazy, entitled, educated but unemployed, broke but living very comfortably off our parents, and spending more than we can afford.

While I can't bear to be associated with this definition, it may very well be an accurate generalization.

But what I can't get past is the blame Millennials -- and those covering the issue -- place on the labour market, the education system, families, society, the economy, the government, and everyone else for their lack of a decent job or one in their field.

Well, I have news for you, Millenials: It's not the labour market. It's you.

No one and no thing is at fault for your less-than-anticipated position or lack of career prospects but you. The kind of "woe-is-me" attitude Generation Y-ers and those who report on them tend to have is destructive, demotivating, and counter-productive. It's no wonder so many young adults don't find themselves in satisfying careers when the responsibility for their lack of steady employment is placed on the world around them.

The recent media obsession with covering stories of the predicament 20-somethings are finding themselves in is not improving this attitude -- in fact, it just might be reinforcing it.

A quick Google search of "Gen Y jobs" will tell you Millennials are "troubled," "giving up hope," the "most" stressed" and a "lost generation," with mounting debt and "fading dreams." You will be informed through countless news articles, documentaries, presentations and infographics on the plight of this generation.

Like this article, which offers a dreary look into the lives of several 20-somethings and would have you believe the country's Millennials are a miserable, bleak bunch. It blames the 2008 financial meltdown and the worsening job market for one budding ESL teacher's woes, declaring "those lucky enough to get a toehold in their chosen professions have a hard time getting enough hours or pay to support themselves, statistics show. Yet they forge on, from unpaid internship to dead-end contract, giving the lie to depictions of a shiftless generation addled by an overdeveloped sense of entitlement." It goes on to call Generation Y "history's most cultivated underclass" and interviews people who say "the only option being offered to us is indentured servitude."

Actually, there are plenty options being offered to you. A world of options, in fact. But it's not up to anyone to hand you them.

And in a country at a time when unprecedented labour shortages are hampering many companies coast-to-coast, the Gen Y employment situation serves as a stark contrast. Canada's unemployment rate sits at seven per cent and youth unemployment doubles that figure. Meanwhile, businesses unable to find skilled workers fast enough are going overseas and looking at other options. Forty per cent of new jobs in the coming decade will be in skilled trades or technology; however just 26 per cent of young people aged 13 to 24 plan to consider a career in the skilled trades, according to Skills Canada.

But a look into any Bachelor of Arts lecture hall around the country will show you there aren't enough chairs for all its students. With rising enrollment at post-secondary institutions and decreasing employment among Canada's 12 million Gen-Yers, Canada is faced with a mismatch that will cost more than $20-billion in lost wages over the next 18 years, according to TD Economics.

So, plumbers, welders, electricians, and engineers of the country -- fear not. But those armed with degrees in less practical areas, who have not taken it upon themselves to secure work experience outside of school, are the ones curled up on Mom and Dad's couches lamenting, on Facebook, their poor job fortunes.

But I'm not here to tell you what career to pursue or degree to take. I'm here to tell you, Gen Y, that the only person responsible for your career -- in whatever field it is you want to pursue -- is you.

There's no doubt the Millennial generation is going to alter the dynamics of the workplace. Employees, today, are staying with companies for shorter tenures than in the past, and job-hopping is increasingly common, with 91 per cent of Millennials expecting to stay in a job for less than three years, according to a Future Workplace survey.

We're a cohort that reads Buzzfeed over Bloomberg, uses Instagram over e-mail, has shorter attention spans, favours the interactive, champions social innovation, and has been taught to think outside the box.

But we won't change the workforce until we enter it.

With public policy discussions abound suggesting the need to modify student debt or adjust the price of post-secondary education, monitor class sizes, enhance training or create job centres to address the lack of young people at work, it's all too simple to pass the buck. The reality is none of these measures cut to the root of the problem, nor will they solve the issue. Individuals, in charge of their own well-being and destiny, can.

To quote Melissa McCarthy from the popular film Bridesmaids, "you're your own problem. But you're also your own solution."

The jobs are out there. And if not, you can create your own. You just have to be willing and wanting to work.

I'm no example of perfection by any stretch of the imagination, but I do know the principles that got people jobs since the beginning of time are the same ones that will get you where you want to be today: hard work, entrepreneurial spirit, industriousness, perseverance, strategic thinking, and a bit of door-knocking.

It is scary to think my fellow Generation Y-ers are to be supporting the bulk of the economy in the upcoming years, yet they allow forces outside their control to dictate their future.

Gen Y, let's have an open and honest relationship with ourselves and start taking responsibility for our own actions and inactions. We were always told we could do anything we wanted, change the world, and be positive forces in society. And we can. But it's up to us -- not our teachers, mentors, friends, parents or politicians -- to make it happen.

I'm glad we had this talk.

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