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Stephanie Brooks

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

Posted: 04/21/2013 10:02 am

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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  • 10 Money Mistakes Young People Make

    Generation Y gets a bit of a bad reputation for not being able to handle their finances, but it may be a reputation that is deserved. Here are 10 things that millennials are doing wrong with their money and how they could do better.

  • 1: Overconfidence

    A <a href="http://www.cica.ca/about-cica/media-centre/item52894.pdf">survey</a> from the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants (CICA) shows that many young people think they are super savvy when it comes to their money. CICA spokesperson Nicholas Cheung says that view may not be justified. “A lot of them say that they’re confident in their abilities to budget or manage their spending, but many of them don’t even have a budget or don’t keep track of their spending,” he said. Instead, realize your limits and recognize that there are many things that you don’t know, and that’ll send you on the path of learning. So the next time someone comes up to you and asks, “What’s a dividend payment?” or “How do banks calculate interest rates?” you’ll have an answer to give them.

  • 2: Saving short-term but not long-term

    Millennials are bad at the latter. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. A study by Visa Business Insights in August showed millennials becoming the fastest growing demographic in luxury spending. We’re snatching up those high-fashion products, travelling to far flung places and eating out on the regular, but what we’re not doing is saving our money, and that, says Tom Hamza, president of the Investor Education Fund, is a mistake. “Managing your financial situation is a lot like losing weight,” Hamza said. “It’s really easy to eat more and indulge yourself, just as it’s easy to put on more debt. But the thing is, trying to take control of the situation takes a lot of discipline.”

  • 3: Being clueless about your family

    Do you have any idea about the state of your parents’ finances? Apparently, neither do a lot of other people. The first step to knowing how to manage your money is to know about the money models around you, and who is closer than your parents? Talk to your family and learn their mistakes and their successes – they do have useful things to teach you, really! Unfortunately, they are just not very good at getting all that knowledge they have to you. CICA’s survey found that two-thirds of parents felt they were teaching badly and wanted to be able to teach better. CICA’s Nicholas Cheung says that “[t]hose parents who are most successful at teaching their kids about financial management skills are the ones who talk to their teenagers about the family’s financial situation and how they manage their own money.” So it may be up to Generation Y to do a little bit of the legwork and actively try to understand the family’s finances.

  • 4: Too much plastic, not enough paper

    Credit and debit cards are so ingrained in our financial interactions that sometimes we forget about ever carrying cash at all. Well, don’t, says Teacher Man, the pseudonym of a Manitoba high school teacher who writes on the popular finance blog, <a href="http://youngandthrifty.ca/">youngandthrifty.ca</a>. Using cards to pay for all your purchases makes it that much easier to spend, and much easier for you to lose track of exactly how much money is coming out of your account. Cash, on the other hand, will always give you a bad wakeup call when you open up your wallet to find it empty. So if you realize that you really need to get serious, hide those cards somewhere you can’t reach them.

  • 5: Not paying down debt when we can

    It can sometimes be easier to reward ourselves with a venti Starbucks drink after a long day’s work or to splurge on that new must-have item. But paying down your debt with whatever money you have is one of the only ways you can ensure a solid financial future. “We’re a generation that continues to accumulate debt without paying it down,” said Lesley Scorgie, millennial author of <em>Rich by Thirty</em>. “I think this generation has become a little too comfortable with carrying debt, whereas the previous generation, people were very interested in paying it down as soon as possible.” Go without the drink and choose to be debt-free instead – you’ll thank yourself in the future.

  • 6: Not looking at the cost-benefit of degrees

    Many would-be students, says finance blogger Teacher Man, aren’t looking at what the job market is like and how high the post-graduation salaries are before choosing a program. Although it’s good to follow your dreams, he says, it is also good to inject some practicality into it. Don’t take out $100,000 in student loans when you know that the demand for jobs in your field isn’t very high, Teacher Man recommends.

  • 7: Not moving to where the money is

    Students are flocking to find work in large urban centres, but cities are having trouble finding work for all of them. “They have to be willing to move to where the jobs are,” said Teacher Man. If you hear of a job opening, even if it’s in a not so attractive area far from the conveniences of urban life, that has to be the choice you’re willing to make, he continues. Jobs won’t come running to you – but at least you can run to them. Pictured: The boom town of Fort McMurray, Alberta, where oil industry jobs are plentiful.

  • 8: Getting discouraged by debt

    You’re out of school and unemployed or stuck in a job you’re overqualified for – but you still have all that money you have to pay back. Now what? One piece of advice is to not get discouraged. Says Lesley Scorgie: “People are very demotivated by debt, and understandably so. It’s that sphere of the unknown, that they won’t be able to achieve anything because they’re so buried in debt. And that’s just a myth. You can achieve success.” When you get discouraged, it is all too easy to stop doing anything towards your financial future because you feel as though mortgages, cars and being financially independent are all non-options for you. Recognize that those goals are still in your grasp and don’t get stuck in that rut.

  • 9: Thinking the financial world is beyond you

    Too many people think that saving and investing is about having a mathematical brain, or that to actively save means dedicating most of your money to your bank account. Many millennials, says John Tracy, vice-president of retail savings and investing at TD Bank, think saving will cut into the life they want to lead, and that being financially savvy means putting away hundreds of dollars a month. Not so!. A dollar a day is all it takes. These small acts, Tracy says, build up a good habit of saving, so that in you’re better prepared to handle the larger amounts of money when it eventually comes your way.

  • 10: Forgetting about interest rates

    We’ve had some of the lowest interest rates in the country for a long time, points out John Tracy. High interest rates discourage consumption, while low interest rates encourage it, and we’re in an economy of such low interest rates, he says, that “the opportunity cost to consume today, in terms of paying interest, is much less.” This, however, lulls you into a false sense of security: What’ll happen when interest rates suddenly go up? They always inevitably do. Prepare for that future and pay down the money.

  • 5 things millennials are doing right with their money

    At the same time, all hope is not lost. Surprise! There are things that Generation Y is doing that do make them further ahead than other generations. Check out the five things that members of Gen Y are doing right with their money.

  • 1: Being interested

    Generation Y is definitely looking to know more, says John Tracy, vice-president of retail savings and investing at TD Bank. What he has noticed is that there is a very strong interest among millennials in doing their research online before heading into the banks, and they’ll often do it all ahead of time so they know exactly what they want. Finance blogger “Teacher Man” says that he has noticed an upwards trend in traffic to his website as his content is searched for more and more often on the web. Google Trends shows that there has been a gradual increase in searches for “pay off debt” and “save for retirement” since 2005.

  • 2: Being frugal

    Millennials are, in fact, among the most conscientious shoppers out there today, said Lesley Scorgie, a millennial who is the best-selling author of Rich By Thirty. “It’s in fashion to be frugal now,” she said. Millennials, more than any other generation, say they have or would use <a href="http://www.groupon.com/">a groupon deal</a> in order to go on their first dates. In a U.S. survey conducted by Coupon Cabin, more than 40 per cent of adults had already used groupons on their first date. “That’s a hilarious stat. It’s now become socially acceptable for this generation to be frugal.” It’s no longer a taboo thing,” Scorgie said.

  • 3: Having a good work-life balance

    Millennials, says Teacher Man, out of all other generations, value a good work/life balance, which means that they are not too obsessed about money to forget that there is a plant that needs watering. At the same time, they aren’t shirkers. Millennials understand that they need a strong financial future. If they could just get the ball rolling, they’d go far.

  • 4: Using the Internet

    Generation Y is the Internet generation, and that means that more millennials are using online banking and online money management tools than ever before. “I’m a big fan of online banking, because it saves me time, which in my mind makes me more efficient,” said Teacher Man, who is at the older end of Gen Y. “I can check my balance whenever I want, and for me that makes me more effective at managing my money.” But, he said, there is definitely a worry, as automatic payments make it easy to lose track of where your money is going. In general, however, online tools mean that it is easier than ever to keep on top of your finances and make sure you never forget to pay a bill.

  • 5: Thinking outside the box

    Being an entrepreneur is the new best thing for millennials, says Rich by Thirty author Lesley Scorgie, especially in times when earning money the traditional way is so hard. Working your way up isn’t so easy anymore, but students who are just starting out do not have experience or opportunities coming out their back pocket. “This generation is willing to try non-traditional things. One of the gals that worked for me at one point, now she’s starting a headband company after graduating and finding it very difficult to find a job,” Scorgie said. Go out on a limb, and you might be rewarded.


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