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Larry Smith (Econ Prof @uWaterloo) made a very convincing argument about the shift towards self-employment as more of a norm, during his keynote at the CACEE Ontario Conference today.

According to a recent Globe and Mail article, over the past year, “About 449,000 private-sector positions vanished compared with a smaller drop of 55,000 among public employees. At the same time, self-employment rose by 104,000.”   Smith cited that today 16% of Canada’s labour force is self-employed compared to 12% in 1976.  This is a gradual trend resulting from all sizes of companies outsourcing many functions of their operations to be more lean and adaptable to economic shifts.

His point to the audience of career educators and recruiters was a call to action, to prepare students for the new economic realities that they will be facing.  During the Q&A, I asked him which new skills would be required to compete in this new culture of self-employment.  This launched him into lengthy response on the imperative to be INNOVATIVE problem solvers. Those who are able to deliver creative solutions will always be in high demand.

The do-gooder in all of us sees the value in volunteering–but there’s significant self- interested career value in the investment of our time for social good:

  1. You will learn about yourself:  Which role are you best suited for on a team?  What part of a job gives you the most satisfaction?  What type of people do you like working with?  Learning these qualities about yourself on the job can be tough, because often you don’t get to chose.  Figure these out as a volunteer and you’ll make better choices about the job you really want.
  2. You will make connections:  I have landed 3 jobs and many more career opportunities directly linked to people I have met through volunteering.  You are more likely to receive a referral from someone who has seen you in action than from someone you met at a networking event.
  3. Opportunity to demonstrate your leadership ability:  You may not be the lead on a big project right away when you start your first job.  But as a volunteer, there are fewer barriers to landing a project management role and showing what you have to offer.
  4. Become passionate and engaged: Finding meaning in a cause taps you into a life force that will ripple good vibes through all areas of your life.
  5. It’s fun! Work takes on a new form when you add the unique element of a team focused on doing social good. The happiness you experience will show through in how you talk about your accomplishments–and that is key to interview success!

I haven’t looked at career education from a return-on-investment perspective in a while–but the price of a new mentorship program by TAG for university and college students, got me thinking about it.

For the grad class of 2009, many have been out of school without a job for six months now. According to NACE research, “Currently, the overall average salary offer made to all bachelor’s degree graduates is $49,353.”  (NACE’s 2009 Salary Survey)  So on average, being unemployed has carried an opportunity cost of almost $25,000.

But, was there an opportunity to begin with?  There is no question that the number of job options available to new grads has decreased over the past year–hiring is down 22% according to employers NACE surveyed in its Spring 2009 Job Outlook.  It is out of proportion though, to the increase in the percentage of grads who find themselves without work at graduation–19.8% compared to 51% in 2007 (NACE, May 2009).   The differential would suggest to me, that for the jobs that are available, students need to be more skilled at finding and landing them.

When it is easier to find work and companies are banging down the doors of universities and colleges to find fresh talent, half of students transition into the employment market right out of the gates.  But as soon as recessionary forces come to bear and finding a job requires career management skills–eight out of ten grads find themselves unemployed.

How do we decrease the elasticity of unemployment for new grads?  4 out of 5 career experts would agree (I was brainwashed by the toothpaste commercials from my youth), that career education is most effective in the fight against employment decay.  I believe that we can increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the school-to-career transition in all economic climates, by engaging students in career management skills.

TAG’s program got me thinking about ROI, because it is the first program that I’ve come across that charges the student for its career mentoring service and pays the mentor.   As a student (or parent) how much would I invest to improve my ability to launch my career?  My first step would be to explore and compare the services offered by my schools career centre–from my distant recollections of math class, free always returns the best ratio.  But I wouldn’t hesitate paying $1,000 or more for expert services.  Look at the price and compare it to its probability of improving your time to land a job that is the right fit for you. For the thousands of students looking back at six months ($25,000) of lost earning potential, I’m sure that many would consider that a good return-on-investment.

*There are many great programs and resources (on and off campus) for students that are currently being offered by career experts–please mention these in the comments section (particularly if you’ve received a great ROI)*

Authors Note:  I used some economics terminology in this post that I haven’t reviewed since 2001–please don’t judge me too harshly if it was used incorrectly.  I spent more time focusing on my career than my academic study.

(A number of the NACE statistics that I sited can be found in TAG’s information rich presentation available at: http://www.slideshare.net/secret/xbldyiJSYdtOFB)

My favorite quote is by Soren Kierkegaard “Life must be lived forward, but can only be understood backward.” I don’t have many fond memories from my mid-teens.   I hadn’t thought about it in a while, until today I took a workshop on engaging youth to positively impact communities.  The first excercise involved us sharing with a partner, the answers to 26 questions about what it was like to be 15 years old.   It brought me back to remembering what it was like to feel isolated and disconnected.  I didn’t feel that I was supported by a community–and I didn’t really know that I wanted to be.  Do other youth feel estranged like this?  What is the impact?

I feel fortunate that university helped give me a fresh start.  I got INVOLVED, and that changed everything!  It was the start of understanding my identity.  Where my zone was and what inspired me.

I’ve had the benefit of working with an incredible mentor since April, who has helped me clarify my goals and keeps me accountable to progressing towards them each month.  As I explore the range of mentorship programs that are available to youth to help them connect to who they are and want to be–it excites me to see that there is an opportunity for them to be more engaged than I was in my mid-teens.  But I know that these programs won’t thrive without the support of volunteers and donors to the agencies that deliver them.  So, I’m adding to my list of goals for 2010 to be an active champion of youth mentorship in Toronto.  If you have suggestions or would like to participate with me, let me know.  Let’s get INVOLVED!

I enjoy a good adventure–but Roz Savage’s bar is higher than mine (and her biceps are bigger).  This Globe & Mail article, Goodbye husband and career, hello high seas,  sparked some interesting discussion in the Comments section.  roz savageFor me, it challenged the notion of a conventional life.  I like what she says about her process of self discovery: “It wasn’t about what I would do, but it was about the kind of person that I would be. And I think I recognized in that moment that I had that potential to actually become that more happy, more achieving person.”  She really seems to have found the “word” that aligned to this period of her life.  “I suppose at that point I was really about freedom. I had this list of criteria. It was going to be something that would help me to grow as a person, so ideally it would have to be something solo. It needed to be adventurous.”  Agree or disagree with her choices, we’ve all got a yearning to explore the full extent of who we are.

It’s very seldom that my perspective has shifted as much as this past week.  This Globe and Mail article, A police drama with a happy ending, had a lot to do with it.  For the last 9 years I have focused extensively on how post-secondary students and young professionals engage in their careers in their 20’s.   I was passionate about it because I understand this group and that’s when things clicked for me.  This article was a wake up call for me, that there is a significant population around me that don’t join the ranks of “students” or “young professionals”.   They don’t have the lens that my parents and mentors gave me to see the full extent of the opportunities that are available through education.  I don’t expect to become an expert on what it’s like to face some of the challenges that new Canadians and “at risk” youth face—but reading this article reminded me that I care deeply and that I want to broaden my horizons.

Today I had a call with someone I met at a professional association event a year and a half ago and have stayed connected to through LinkedIn.  A few days ago, he sent me a nice message requesting a small amount of time to either meet in person to over the phone to discuss some career research he was doing.  Of course I was happy to oblige.

After a bit of chit-chat, discussing what he’s been up to and the specs of my new role, we got to the point of the call.  The “research” was to find out if I may know of any job opportunities that may fit what he is looking for.  So, I asked what to me is the obvious, “What would your ideal job be?”  His answer was a bit challenging for me to digest:  it included a few job titles interspersed with “or”; and didn’t give me a picture of the type of organization that he’d like to work for.  I was sold on wanting to help him, but needed the parameters to know if I could.

You may be thinking, “well, I don’t want my contact to rule out options they may know about by being too picbulls eye imageky.” I’m not suggesting to be inflexible in the range of options that you’ll accept–but at least start by targeting the bull’s eye.  This is a key element of your career seeking elevator pitch–so you have to be precise about your desired outcome.  Anyone worth receiving advice or a referral from, will be able to determine if they know of opportunities or have contacts in the ball park of what you’re looking for.

As for my contact, a series of questions helped him to uncover more specifically what his ideal role looks like.  I didn’t have the right knowledge or connections , but was able to refer him to a colleague who I know will.

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