Despite standing in a line of hundreds of students desperately searching for summer employment at a job fair, 18-year-old Julia Poissant isn’t fazed.
She’s well aware that the job market is shrinking around the world, but she isn’t willing to worry.
“I know there’s problems, but I’m feeling fairly confident,” she said. “You just have to look for opportunities and be proactive, I guess.”
Amid the global economic downturn, it’s hard for even seasoned workers not to feel like the sky is falling.
The picture can seem bleaker still for people who are just starting out in the job market, or hoping to score a part-time or summer job.
These fears are partly backed up by the most recent unemployment figures, which showed an almost 15 per cent unemployment rate for those aged 15-24, the highest in 11 years.
But experts say Poissant might have the right idea – there’s hope for younger people, who come more cheaply and with more flexibility than older workers and who have the potential to stay with a company for years after the economy recovers.
“I think there’s a lot more doom and gloom than the reality,” said Kirk Hill, the executive director of the Career Management Centre at Simon Fraser University’s business school.
“Yes, the job market is probably about the toughest in a few years, but there’s a few things to your benefit, being younger.”
Those newly graduating may be able to get positions at companies that otherwise aren’t able to hire permanent workers, said Hill.
“They may be able to do a co-op or they may be able to do an internship or a short-term contract because their hiring freezes don’t affect that,” he said.
Plenty of employers signed up for the city of Calgary’s youth employment centre job fair, said Lisa Wieser, community relations liaison at the centre.
“They are still kind of looking at that generation’s perspective and the energy they bring to the workplace and that and they really see a benefit in that.”
Interested employers come from a wide variety of sectors, including health care, recreation and child care, she said. A variety of retail positions are also open.
Even some employers that may not have signed up, including those in the oil and gas sector, are now looking at the youth market, she said.
A big part of the interest in youth is the fact that employers realize that the recession won’t last forever, and they’ll need committed workers over the long term, Wieser said.
Many are also keeping an eye on the fact that many of their workers will be retiring over the next few years.
“They will have to have people filling those positions, so there’s a lot of potential for a young person coming in and starting out with the company to really work in that company and potentially grow with them.”
Hill said many employers he deals with are also looking to youth for the future of their companies.
“Any of the larger-sized companies know they have to continue in the hiring because over the next five or 10 years it’ll be quite dramatic what happens in terms of retirements.”
Oil company EnCana hired about 300 summer students this year in the U.S. and Canada, on par with the core number hired in previous summers, said spokeswoman Carol Howes.
“We view that recruitment program … as really important to developing the talent for the company long-term, so that’s something that hasn’t changed.”
One company at the Calgary employment fair, 7-11, is constantly searching for young workers, said human resources manager Paul Parmar.
While people might not buy a new car during the downturn, everyone’s still able to spare change for a cup of coffee, so business is going strong, he said.
“We’re looking for young people with the drive and ambition to move forward,” he said.
An important detail for some students to remember is that in the current economy, they might not find their dream job, said Anne Markey, the executive director of the Canadian Association of Career Educators and Employers.
Although Zack Swartz, 20, applied for many jobs in his field as he finished his second year of engineering at the University of Western Ontario, he wasn’t hired.
“I thought I could get some job that could get some experience towards my engineering degree, but it doesn’t look very likely,” he said.
“Now I’m just trying to make some cash … I’m strong, I’m young, maybe some manual labour.”
This scenario could happen to many students, but it doesn’t have to be a bad thing, said Markey. While there are jobs to be had, students may have to work harder to get them and be willing to compromise.
For example, while a job at a summer camp might not be obviously part of someone’s career path, a student will meet parents and fellow counsellors and gain experience and contacts.
“The secret to summer jobs is take anything that helps you get to where you want to go, helps you build to where you want to be,” she said.
– The Canadian Press