In January, six of British Columbia’s universities reported the province is facing a shortage of skilled workers. The Research Universities’ Council of B.C. has declared that by 2016, the number of B.C. graduates will not be enough to fill the jobs that require university, college or trades credentials.
The council has made several suggestions to decrease this deficit, such as creating more space for future students and providing more robust student aid. Still, the report estimates that by 2020, nearly 19,000 jobs in our province could be going unfilled, and this number is slated to increase.
That report poked me hard in a tender, bruised place of my soul. While I’m completely on board with the idea of promoting affordable education for more British Columbians, I’ve just come off a year where I was making minimum wage with a master’s degree from a first-class university, so I’m not sure what to make of the news that B.C. is aching for grads.
This report seems incongruous not only with my lived experience, but with the common wisdom of my peers in academia: While a bachelor’s degree was a valuable career investment for our parents, for us a bachelor’s degree is a great way to rack up thousands of dollars worth of debt with no assurance that it will give you an edge in the job market. (A bachelor’s degree has many values; employability isn’t necessarily one of them.)
Furthermore, when the recession hit, people went back to school to wait out the drought. Grad-school admissions increased and competition grew fiercer. In 2010, Maclean’s magazine wrote that “Getting in [to law school] has never been easy. But now, it’s nearly impossible,” because of the huge volume of applicants. Do we not now have a fresh wave of recent grads pouring out of these institutions?
If we do, this report suggests, then it’s not enough to fill the province’s needs.
I just think it’s weird, is all.
Last October, the B.C. government rolled out a campaign to encourage young people to pursue higher education, including the trades, with the slogan: “Hipster isn’t a real job.” The aim, I assume, was to encourage lazy, privileged, disaffected scroungers to become productive members of society. But the thing is, I don’t know any disaffected scroungers. I know disaffected, intelligent, hard-working grads who are looking for work and can’t find anything beyond bottom-rung service positions or unpaid internships.
The “hipster isn’t a real job” slogan saddens me, because it reveals an enormous misunderstanding about the reality of unemployment for people in the 20-to-25 age range. Furthermore, it betrays a level of cynicism about this generation that I find startling.
By all means, encourage young people to find jobs and careers that will give them new experiences and valuable skills and will help our economy. But please don’t suggest that because we are failing to find these new experiences, are failing to learn valuable skills, are working jobs that are deeply unfulfilling, that we aren’t trying.
Trust me. We’re not failing because we’re lazy or uneducated or uninterested in employment. My peers are searching and searching and finding nothing. They will take minimum-wage jobs and be grateful, and then change the subject whenever someone asks them what they’re doing with their lives.
They’re not unemployed because they’re too attached to the label “hipster” to want “real” jobs. All of the “real” jobs I have ever had, I have gained not on my own merits, but because I knew a person who knew a person. Our merits barely matter and we’re beginning to accept this.
In a world where we are slowly unlearning the lie that our intelligence, skills and talent will get us places in life, it’s not too awesome to see ads on the bus telling you that you’re unemployed because you’re not trying hard enough.
After earning my MA, I spent 12 months either unemployed or underemployed at part-time, minimum-wage, and none of my peers were surprised, because they were facing the same problems. And I’m just not sure how to reconcile that picture — which is not so far in my past that it might not be my future again — with this latest report and this anxiety over the province’s ability to provide skilled workers.
They’re here. I swear they’re here. Right here in front of you. Please hire them.
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