Maria Montemayor, Youth Speak News

Challenges of work and student debt

By  Maria Montemayor, Youth Speak News
  • November 6, 2015

More students today are facing unemployment or underemployment, even in specialized fields. A report from the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers, based on 2011 data, has found that only 29.7 per cent of those with engineering degrees actually work in their fields as engineers.

Many employers look to hire experienced individuals and often require applicants to already have years of experience under their belt. Because of this, many graduates pursue more schooling to make up for their lack of experience and delay entering the work force. And the cycle of more student debt and underemployment continues.

When I graduated from university last year, I took on a couple of part-time jobs that were not in my field of interest so that I would be able to pay off some of my $12,000 student loan debt. I managed to cut my debt in half through money I earned over the months. Now, even though I only have less than 20 per cent of the original debt left to pay, I still feel pressure to have it all paid off by the end of this year. I can definitely relate to graduates who are unemployed or who stay in jobs that do not fully utilize their skills.

University tuition fees vary by province, and since Ontario has the highest tuition fees in Canada for the seventh year in a row, Ontario university graduates are most in need of finding a job after graduation to pay off their debt. When the pressure to pay off debt exceeds the ability to pay, graduates are more likely to take on any available job, even if they are overqualified.

Gainful employment gives graduates a sense of purpose, a sense of dignity and a means of productivity. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Work can be a means of sanctification and a way of animating earthly realities with the Spirit of Christ.” Work not only honours the gifts and talents that God gives us, it also redeems us. We are disciples of Christ by carrying our cross daily in the work that God has called us to fulfil.

Unemployment, on the other hand, can elicit feelings of pity, embarrassment and sorrow from people who have jobs and from graduates who do not have jobs. For example, on social media, I read about friends lamenting about sending out hundreds of resumes without a response, and I feel for them.

“It makes me sad, when I see people without work, who do not find work and haven’t the dignity of bringing bread home,” said Pope Francis during one of his general audiences last August.

Despite the seemingly dire conditions many students find upon graduation, there are some who quickly find gainful employment. I know a couple of friends who are working within their fields, one of whom was able to turn a part-time co-op into a full-time job.

As Catholics, we must be willing to support our students and graduates by rejoicing with those who succeed academically and who make strides in their careers, and by praying for those who struggle academically or financially. We also need to be able to stand in solidarity with, and demand more for, our graduates who have to pay the high price for education without the guarantee of gainful employment post-graduation. Catholics could advocate for more employment programs where students have greater access to eligible employers specific to their field of interest before they graduate.

During the Pope’s visit to Caglieri, Italy, in 2013, he had choice words of encouragement that apply to graduates in Canada: “To all those with or without a job, I say, don’t let your hope be taken away from you. Hope could be like burning embers underneath the ash. Let’s help each other by blowing on the ash. Hope helps us move on.”

(Montemayor, 23, graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Toronto.)

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