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The Lost Generation

3 June 2013

CBC's "Doc Zone" recently focused on the plight of university graduates who are unable to find employment. The program revealed some startling facts -

A graduate in Urban Geography commented, "I expected when I was an adult to have my own apartment and have a good job and wear a business suit." She now serves in a Japanese restaurant.

An employee at a placement agency said, "A graduate is like a $40,000 new car on a lot, you drive it off and it's worth $20,000."

Another graduate featured sent out 100 resumes in eighteen months and got only two interviews.

What has exacerbated the problem is outsourcing to other countries or getting computers to do the work, Nor, with present day technology, will matters improve. Now they have driverless cars that will make drivers of taxis and trucks, and even the pizza delivery guy, unemployed. Robots will soon be able to fill prescriptions, so it's bye-bye to the pharmacists. Lawyers will be replaced by software that can analyze legal situations. With this rosy picture, what chance do young people, or for that matter, most people stand?

The moot point is how many employees does an individual capitalist or a corporation need to make a fortune? The program mentioned that Facebook, Twitter, Croupon, and Linked-in are collectively worth $80 billion, but have less than 20,000 employees worldwide.

Mostly, unemployed grads become underemployed taking temporary work under contracts where they work for low wages with no benefits. Statistics show that the average person at 30 has had eleven jobs. The prediction is that in ten years, at 30, the average person will have worked between 200 and 300 projects. Francis Fong, an economist at the T.D. bank, said, "Young people now compete for jobs with their parents' generation." He may have said, their grandparents too, considering how many senior citizens find it necessary to continue working.

In no way is education responding to the needs of the labour market and in no way is this more obvious than in education itself. Ontario turns out more teachers than there are jobs. One year after graduating, 67% of new teachers are unemployed. Most can't get work as supply teachers. Every year 8,000 new teachers trained in Ontario come onto the labour market, plus 3,000 trained in other provinces, but only about 4,600 retire annually.

The longer a graduate is unemployed, the less likely that they will have a chance of getting a job in his/her field, so may go to a technical institute for special training, or back to university for a higher degree, that will increase their already burdensome debt. With such qualifications, the employers want experience. It's back to the situation that has bedeviled workers of all ages and education levels - "Only experienced need apply", then how does one get experience?

Some get internships that, in many cases, means working for nothing. In some cases, interns are not paid for sixty days, and after that, a small stipend, but with no guarantee of a job. Kelly Fallis, C.E.O of Toronto web-based design company, 'Remote Stylists', said, "For the employer it's cheap labour, for the intern, it's getting valuable experience. It's a win-win." But who really wins? One ex-intern of that company remarked, "In three years, fifty interns have come and gone and many end up at McDonalds."

According to Andrew Lagille, an employment lawyer at York University, "Ninety-five per cent of the internships in Ontario are illegal. It's something the government has no wherewithal to address. It has basically no interest in dealing with the issues young people are facing." Internships are deepening the unemployment crisis because so many young people are working for free.

Some grads are trying to get apprenticeships in trades but, again, are finding that companies only want experienced workers. As one counselor at a job fair put it, "It's cheaper to get a temporary foreign worker than get a young person and train them."

Contrary to what Ms. Fallis said, for unemployed grads it's a lose-lose situation. As one grad said, "I don't expect to own a house. It's not part of my gambit or world view, and never will be."

Though the present is grim and the future is gloomy for so many grads, it's not a whole lot better for the rest of us, including people who are working now. Mass unemployment is on the horizon and the pity of it all is that in a sane society a life of comfort and plenty for all is achievable. Far from labour saving devices being a catastrophe for the workers, it would be seen as a boon that would free up more time for the whole of humanity to be able to pursue personal recreation and development without fear of losing one's livelihood. Useful work will be found for everyone whatever their respective skills. In other words, 'from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.'

The program finished by showing some thoroughly disillusioned grads conversing. One said she resented her generation being referred to as "The Lost Generation". Another said, "We are not lost, we are just trying to find the way."

There is a way - it's called working for socialism.

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