Meredith Gillis

Grim prospects for graduates

By  Meredith Gillis, Youth Speak News
  • September 19, 2014

A recent study by the Council of Ontario Universities paints a rosy picture of post-graduate life. Within two years of graduating, 93 per cent of graduates are employed and the average salary for someone working full-time is just under $50,000.

I was surprised to hear this. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism a year and a half ago. My first paid position was part-time at minimum wage in a local radio newsroom, and six months after I started w o r k i n g there my week was capped at 10 hours. I picked up several other part-time jobs working as a maid and banquet server at a hotel as well as a sales position at a clothing store. Between the four, I was able to pay rent and sometimes buy groceries.

Many of my colleagues have indeed gone on to work full time. Several are in grad school or doing specialized college programs to postpone entering an unfriendly labour market. But an informal survey of friends over Facebook and anecdotes gleaned from chatting with neighbours around my parents’ suburban home shows something different, which becomes apparent upon closer reading of the study.

All of the study’s pretty analyses — except for the per-centage of employed graduates — includes the phrase “graduates employed full-time.”

Most of us aren’t working in full-time permanent positions. When Statistics Canada corrected a major error in July’s job numbers they showed a net gain of 42,000 jobs. You could argue a job is a job, but when 60,000 part-time jobs are added and 18,000 full-time jobs are lost the picture is a little less rosy.

Working part-time means one of two things: either you make do with less and pursue volunteer opportunities when you’re not working in the hopes of getting a foot in the door; or you get a second or third part-time job to give some financial cushion and do your best to cope with inconsistent or incompatible scheduling and a seven-day work week.

The Canadian Federation of Students says students graduate with an average of $28,000 or more in student loans. If we just count the provincially and federally funded loans, the figure is probably accurate. But most available figures don’t include student lines of credit, often co-signed by parents trying to help their kids finance school.

Another significant factor omitted from the Council of Ontario Universities study is the prevalence of contract work. During my job hunt, the large majority of positions I’ve been qualified to fill are six-month to one-year contracts. Most respondents to my informal Facebook survey reported earnings in the $25,000 — $35,000 range in permanent positions unrelated to their field of study.

Those who were working in their field had either just recently transitioned to a permanent position after several years of contracts with no health or dental benefits, or were continuing to play 11th-hour games of “will my contract be renewed?” and looking for other employ-ment, often out of province, just in case.

One person, a teacher, reported a $59,000 salary, but she had to move across the country for the job, may be moved from school to school as the wind blows and is expected to put in a significant amount of time after hours without compensation.

I wouldn’t trade my education for the world. I grew up and learned so much about myself, what I value and what I want out of life while I was away at school. But I think Simona Chiose, in her Globe and Mail article “Recent university grads increasingly jobless, study shows,” is right to conclude post-recession university graduates are faring worse than those who graduated before 2006 in almost every employment measure.

(Gillis, 25 has an undergraduate degree in journalism from St. Thomas University in Fredericton, NB.) 

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