Jobless in Canada: DEGREES OF FRUSTRATION
By NEHA KARAMCHANDANI
Phone calls. Meetings. Lunch. Emails. This is my day-to-day routine as an account manager at a Toronto-based digital marketing company in the travel industry.
While this may be common for many working an office job, it wasn’t what I had imagined my career to be.
Growing up, I found myself always watching legal shows like Law and Order, CSI, Suits and even Judge Judy. I had a profound interest in the justice system, wanting a career as a lawyer, police officer or a forensic scientist. Some would say I have the perfect personality for such a career choice – perseverance, creativity and effective communication.
In 2012, I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Criminology and Human Rights/Equity Studies from York University. Simultaneously, I pursued a diploma in Forensic Science from the Stratford Career Institute.
I also loved watching Bollywood movies. I would imagine myself on the big screen working alongside Shah Rukh Khan. Shortly after finishing my bachelor’s degree, I decided to explore my passion and travel to India to complete a diploma in acting from Roshan Taneja’s School of Acting.
But I quickly realized that I preferred a career where I could fuse my acting/media and legal interests.
In 2017, I enrolled in the Master of Journalism program at Ryerson University to become a broadcast journalist focusing on crime and international affairs.
While I always knew I wanted to be working in a glamorous profession and have a well-paying career, what I didn’t know is that I would be working in a field unrelated to my education: technology.
According to the 2017 Ontario University Graduate Survey conducted by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, six months after graduation, 72.3 per cent of graduates employed full-time consider their work either “closely” or “somewhat” related to the subject matter of their program of study. Two years after graduation, 77.2 per cent of graduates employed full-time consider their work either “closely” or “somewhat” related to the subject matter of their program of study. Although the two-year journey (or sometimes shorter or longer) to gainful employment can be frustrating, every step is a crucial part of the journey to success.
“Very few students are doing what they studied,” said Dr Jaswant Bajwa, a professor of psychology at George Brown College and a practising registered psychotherapist. “People try to get their foot in the door and train to become what they want. For instance, if they want to work in construction management, then they find something in the construction field. To become something, they look for something they can do to get to that profession that they actually want.”
During and after my postgraduate degree, I worked in journalism, hosting shows on Desi Music Joint CMR 101.3, a Hindi radio station based in Etobicoke. I wrote freelance articles for various news publications. I also worked as a communications assistant at the Anger Management Centre of Toronto.
None of these were full-time, permanent positions. However, each one of them allowed me to hone my skills and find a job that eventually fit in line with my career goal.
After a year of precarious employment and an endless number of job applications, I landed a full-time, permanent job as a customer success manager at Blockthrough, a Toronto-based advertising technology startup. I was responsible for publisher accounts and some technical writing for the engineering department.
According to the Indeed Hiring Lab, recent Canadian university graduates are slower out of the gate, but eventually finding their place. Jobless rates among those under 25 with university degrees are higher than they were before the 2008-2009 recession. As they age, recent university-educated Canadians are faring well in today’s labour market.
However, precarious employment remains a taboo subject in the South Asian community, often leaving new graduates feeling uncomfortable to share their stories. The stereotype that a meaningful career requires being a doctor, lawyer or engineer still exists. Some South Asian parents are unable to think beyond these professions and often force their children into certain careers.
“It’s cultural. The first generation works blue collar jobs and wants no struggle for their kids. They impose their own desires and aspirations like my daughter should be a doctor, lawyer or engineer and go to the top-rated schools. Parents force them. The control is coming from the right place, but the way of doing it isn’t,” added Bajwa.
“I had a patient who said during a session that her parents forced her to go to a specific program. It can result in mental health issues. South Asian parents need to be more informed and aware,” Bajwa said, while sharing an experience she had with a client at her clinic.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) a person is in precarious employment if: they have no control over their work schedules; do not have access to benefits or training that are available to full-time permanent staff; are more likely to have more than one job; and work on-call. This has increasingly become the “new normal”.
However, it leads to anxiety and stress, affects social relationships and diminishes community connects, as per a study conducted by McMaster University in Hamilton, United Way in Toronto and the Poverty and Employment Precarity in Southern Ontario (PEPSO).
Organizations hold career fairs each year for job seekers including recent graduates to learn about job opportunities in their fields. They can meet with employers, network and share their resumés. Some of these fairs include Job Expo, TorontoJobs.ca and Toronto Career Fair and Training Expo.
Similarly, there are employment agencies and websites which assist job seekers with finding employment. They also help match employers with potential employees, which turns out being a win-win situation for all parties involved. Some of these include Access Employment, JVS Toronto, Indeed, Hired and Vettery.
Herleen Arora, a Partnership Development Officer at Future Skills Centre said, although the onus lies on the student to find a job, the system needs to offer support as well.
“We have to re-evaluate and see how to provide support to new graduates,” she says. “Build career awareness of the skills that they have, which can be transferrable between jobs. There is this anxiety among recent graduates that they must have their career figured out by fourth year university or when they are entering. Career paths are often nonlinear.”
Some educational institutions like Ryerson University are employing a new support model – providing coaching and counselling services to students even five years after they have graduated.
Arora also noted that there are cutbacks in certain fields and opportunities in others.
“We have cuts in fields such as education, social services and health care, which leads to precarious employment. There is a growing sector of trades and technology. Fields such as science and technology have more opportunities.”
According to the CBRE’s 2017 North American Scoring Tech Talent report, Toronto added 22,500 new technology jobs to eclipse tech hotbeds New York (5,370) and San Francisco (11,540) combined. The report also indicates a 35 per cent growth overall in tech degrees in the Toronto area between 2011 and 2015, with a 47 per cent boost in computer engineering degrees.
It’s not too late.
After joining Blockthrough, I looked at the demands of the labour market and created a niche for myself – technical writing. This is largely because the demand for workers in financial, technology and engineering services is higher than any other field.
I’m not the only one who found herself working in a technology company despite having a degree in a different field.
In 2010, after finishing high school at the age of 17, Ritika Khanna was faced with one of the “biggest” decisions of her life – choosing her degree and ultimately her career path.
“I chose to do a bachelor’s degree with a double major in Criminology and Employment Relations at the University of Toronto. It was an area of interest to me as I wanted a long-term career in the justice system within a support function such as the police department or an agency.
“Once I realized that Criminology was likely to become a very academic career path, I wasn’t interested in pursuing it any further,” said Khanna, a 26-year-old internal events manager at a Toronto-based technology company.
While part-way through her degree, she leveraged her employment relations background by working toward her Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP) designation. This includes completing 10 mandatory courses and writing a final exam. By the time Khanna completed her undergraduate degree, she had finished five of the required courses during her employment relations studies.
However, that didn’t work to her benefit either.
“I continued to do courses toward my CHRP designation using my employment relations background, but I was having difficulty finding full-time employment in that field with a secure career growth,” says Khanna, who volunteered at the Toronto Police Services to gain experience. “I eventually started working in operations and administration, leading to events and project management which I’m doing in my current role.”
Despite not working in a field related to her education, Khanna said she actively uses the skills she gained from her university education.
“A lot of my work today is based on problem-solving and analytical thinking, and that does heavily relate to some of the things we learned in criminology from an analysis standpoint and putting different pieces of information together.”
Khanna is appreciative of her journey thus far. “From my HR training, I do a lot of relationship management and influencing a lot of people. Sometimes it’s direct reports, otherwise it’s managing up and sometimes managing down and sometimes managing laterally.”
She is working toward completing her Project Management Professional Certification (PMP) and hopes to move along into project management and operations.
While studying long hours, students are often juggling part-time jobs to pay off their debt. Khanna said she worked 35 hours a week and full-time over summers to pay for her education.
For some, part-time jobs affect their career decisions.
Since the age of 16, Kageana Arul worked at the City of Markham in the recreational department. At the same time, she was pursuing a double major in conservation biology and environmental ethics from the University of Toronto.
“Immediately after graduating from university, my degree in addition to my work experience in program planning and facilitating at the City of Markham led me to a summer position at Earth Day Canada. Though I enjoyed working there and it grasped my interest nicely, it was not a long-term position,” said 25-year-old Arul in a phone interview.
After working at various companies, she realized she didn’t want to continue this line of work. Arul joined Thinking Forward, a nonprofit organization, as a full-time program coordinator.
However, she kept her part-time City of Markham job as the weekend supervisor of programs and recently went back to school to do a diploma program in recreation and leisure studies at Canadore College.
“This is an area I’ve been working in part-time for over a decade and decided to be formally educated in it,” said Arul, who also believes the idea of deciding your career straight out of high school needs to change.
“I know it didn’t get me where I had imagined I would be but also that was a different time. As an adult now, I’m grateful for the opportunities I had and the choices I made because I was able to grow from it,” added Arul, who believes that no form of education is a waste.
Bajwa says that college education is becoming increasingly common.
“I think recently there is a trend that many university students are going to college because they have a solid theoretical framework, but they do not get a practical application piece. They go to college to get the hands- on experience.”
Many immigrants – regardless of their education and experience from back home – face similar challenges when they arrive in Canada
Rennie Varghese graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication from Loyola Academy in Hyderabad, India, in 2012. She also worked at Deloitte and HSBC as a financial representative before moving to Canada for a better life in 2015.
After coming to Canada, she enrolled herself in a Business Management program for a year at Fleming College in 2016. After completing this diploma, she pursued an Arts Management program at Centennial College for another year.
“I went back to school when I got to Canada to land a better job. It was to explore more options and it was almost a requirement. Employers want people with experience and education,” said Varghese, a 27-year-old fashion logistics coordinator at Roadair International Ltd. “When I was trying to find something related to arts, I never got any response from any arts-related jobs. I’m not working in the field that I’m interested in, but there are some skills that are related.
While Varghese is content with her current position, she added that she won’t be satisfied until she finds a job where she is learning and developing professionally.
“It takes a long time. You have to sometimes a take a job to live, but the right job will eventually come your way,” said Varghese positively.
As for the 29-year-old me, I wouldn’t trade my education, experiences or career for anything else. I’m learning every day, working toward my technical writing certificate from Humber College and keeping my eyes open for my next move.
You are not alone, job search is everyone’s struggle
Neha Karamchandani: “Chase your dreams, but don’t lose yourself in them. While education holds it value, always continue to work on refining your skills and building your personality. This will help you become successful; be open, patient and accepting of all sorts of employment; you learn from all.”
Kageana Arul: “Take it easy and don’t stress about it. Every graduation ceremony has a speech about “the real world,” but you don’t see the real world until you experience and live it yourself. Work on yourself and enjoy every moment of it.”
Ritika Khanna: “Don’t shy away from looking at a career in trades regardless of your own doubts and what your parents may think about it; it’s worth looking into not just because of yourself, but for the fact that they are paid very well; they are unionized; they got lots of overtime; there will always be a need.”
Rennie Varghese: “Do proper research before anything in terms of job and education because these will affect long-term decisions.”
Herleen Arora: “Be curious about your field. Be patient with yourselves. Everyone’s path looks different. Utilize events, panels and discussions. Connect and move around in the space. Learning never stops professionally and personally forever.”
Dr Jaswant Bajwa: “There are new skills to learn in everything you do. Change your perspective. Every job is going to offer functional skills that can be transferred to other jobs. Create a functional resumé and focus on the soft skills that employers are looking for. Sometimes students lack in those and fail to get the job they want.”