What’s happening with new grads opportunities?

It’s not nice to start a blog post stating that one feels sad or concerned about something, though it’s worse to say that one feels disappointment! This is the ending of a storm of feelings that have crossed my mind and my heart after I read this article about the rising trend in youth unemployment, particularly among recent graduates. Nothing could deviate my ever-present smile and positive attitude toward life than such an unfair situation like this one.

Sure enough we live in a very unjust world, no surprises there. However, it comes to a sad realization when the main character involved in the story is oneself. To this point, we must all admit that we are a bit detached to someone else’s problems as far as those problems don’t get to close to us. In this case, I am not only close to this subject matter – qualified youth unemployment – I am well within it. By saying this I am still focusing on whatever is affecting me at the moment, and leaving so much -that affects others – outside. My understanding of this seemingly selfish approach is that by writing these articles I may be helping other fellows in my same situation, and in doing such I serve a purpose. In my reasoning, that’s a better way to start to do something rather than complaining and criticizing.

So here are the true facts: 13.2% of youth unemployment in BC -largest of all four western provinces – with a very subtle increase from previous years. Seen that way it doesn’t look like a huge problem, and the government finds refuge in those -they say- good figures, obviously always comparing to a even worse government administration of the past. No surprises about them both: statistics and politicians. Neither of them are absolutely genuine in reflecting what really happens at the ground level. I don’t mean to blame anyone for anything, and I am not trying to show any sympathy or rejection to any political party at all. I am simply expressing my point of view on a subject that affects a group of people in this province  – and to a similar extent to the rest of the Nation – a group that is the economic foundation and living future of citizens in this area.

So how do we reconcile the political discourse with the reality we need to face everyday when we courageously jump onto job search engines and positively keep looking for new opportunities? Is it realistic a government program says “there are so many new opportunities around the corner” when they mainly advertise and promote jobs related to the construction and oil-related industries? I am not against these industries, but we have to realize that this cannot be the only venues through which all job vacancies are expected to be created. First of all because it would result in a “discrimination” for so many other disciplines, and second because the whole economy cannot rely only on two or three activities. What would happen when the growing boom of these fields start to decline in years or decades? Where would all the workers turn to? Can the BC Jobs Plan be considered successful up to this point? I leave it up to you…

Reading about the comments of the article I came across some really wise pieces of realism and pure logical analysis. It all revolves around youth discern to choose the right program with a future career projection. However, this is not always the case. Here’s where the first main flaw in the system comes into play: it’s general belief that it is important to have a degree, but no one ever mentions that depending on what that degree is about will firmly and undoubtedly impact our chances to land a good career path after graduation. The second great flaw is part of the orchestrated platform through and from which educational institutions try to recruit students at any cost. As someone mentions, the educational system has become an outstanding business machine. It sounds harsh to the ears of some, but it is the raw reality. Today, universities and colleges are all about having more students to pay more tuition fees, and quality of education, content, prospective advancements, and successful career planning are overlooked. This brings along the major of problems: it is all focused on having as many students as possible, and not on carefully planning a strategy that will help them succeed in their careers once out of the academic system. A very shortsighted and economically-driven policy. Evidently true though.

How are we going to deal with the number of unemployed young professionals who are struggling to land a respectable job where they get paid fairly for the large investment they made when pursuing a university degree? What are the answers to this talented youth who feels that is wasting their time underemployed in survival jobs? What will be a new approach to current difficulties faced by this group? Do politicians have actual believable and applicable initiatives?

Employers on the other side don’t make things much smoother either. Even when I can’t generalize about all fields, when it comes to science and particularly biological sciences, it looks like employers have become pickier than ever in the last few years. The number of requirements asked in a job ad seem to far exceed any realistic reach for recent grads. The more certifications and experience they require, the more it becomes evident that there’s a need for further education, at least short specialization courses offered by numerous institutions. However, this also turns into a vicious cycle where one degree has already left students in debt, and having to further their qualifications will increase that debt even more, but without those certifications there’s no real chance to land the job. It is a sticky situation where most are forced to enter the labor market in underestimated conditions, where their degrees and effort to obtain them are worth nothing by no one.

In my very humble opinion, I think there is one thing that the government can do: pass laws that regulate the percentage of entry level/recent graduates who are hired by companies. The recruiting department of companies will be responsible to inform how many of the recent hires were given to entry-level young professionals, and so gave them the chance to start building a path into future to those ones. I know of a Provincial Program aimed at youth with post-secondary degrees, helping  them connect to employers, where the government offers economic incentive to the employer if they recruit and keep a young professional at a certain position. BC’s representative of this program, Douglas College, has benefited with a great deal of subsidies to strengthen the program. Too bad former students with “Post-Graduate work permits” are forbidden to apply. This is a paradox that I will devote a whole blog post to very soon.

The task for new grads is not easy, and while some insist in blaming the students themselves for making bad and uninformed choices, I’d be more inclined to think it is a shared responsibility of three main actors: students, educational institutions and the government (we could well include employers here too, although that’s a bit more controversial and accepts further discussion). Until there is no agreement in a coordinated and articulated functioning of these three parts there will be no conciliation, and very hardly any change. My ideal change would be the government taking its part in accepting the Jobs Plan has not come to its full success, and needs to be readdressed: give true answers to a broader spectrum of young grads.  Am I being too idealistic? I hope not.

Finding the right path… but which?

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I think I will get a bit out of track in this post since this is not completely “scientific career-oriented”, but it definitely has to do with the whole picture of how and why we ended up where we are now, and more importantly how we’re going to look at the future with optimism, wisdom and commitment.

I will be giving my own personal view, feelings and experience so far in my life about every aspect covered in this discussion/description. This is my own story, which may -and for the most part must- be different from so many others. However, I know I still might share a sense of belonging with people who struggle to define what their right path in life is.

To be honest I wish I had been born one of those gifted guys with some outstanding talent no one could ever miss just by looking at me and set that as the driver of my career, success and economic prosperity. Unfortunately, that has never been the case. I was born pretty regular, the usual-type of person with certain abilities -often more limited that what I would have enjoyed- but nothing too extraordinary. Regardless of this, life has had no mercy on me, and still threw tons of challenges in my way that I had to dodge the best I could, on the run. While this sounds like a bit childish and oversimplified it portrays the cornerstones of what it has truly happened. Having life urging you to take decisions on what path to choose for your future is not the problem… problem is: what is the path? Pretty simply answer I have heard so far: I, you, we, they don’t know! Pretty predictable answer as well, eh? But if no one knows, how is it that everyone looks so settled and successful? Am I being denied access to some information I can’t see by myself? Let’s talk about this.

I am positive that most of us have plans and projects for the years to come. I am certain that more than half the people I know and work along daily would simply die if they didn’t know what they’d do the day after tomorrow. It’s a human act, almost a habit to plan what comes next. It makes us feel we are in control of the situation -even when we are talking about giving direction to the course of our own existence- and know exactly what our next move will be. True enough though, when having to make an election of a career path things can turn a bit thicker -and stickier?- for some. I am among this “some” group.

For someone who sees my professional career -from an educational point of view- probably won’t have many doubts about what my expectations for a career are: scientific research, laboratories, papers, conferences, symposiums, grant applications, etc etc… understandable after all, for someone who has spent the last 9 years of his life studying science. Here’s the inflection point though: I am not totally convinced that research -for the sake of it- will make me happy and content the rest of my life. I have already said this in a previous post so moving on: finding a job and putting myself into the working force looks like the next big option. Well, let me tell you that for a recent grad student with the “deadly” specialization so carefully developed at university for years is simply NOT that easy. And as if this wasn’t enough, I have one more “detail” to add to the drama, I am not sure if working in this field is either what I want. I am getting tired of myself already writing all this. Why do you have to be such a complicated person buddy? -my inner self asks, frustrated-.

So this is me, a profusely curious person who has been fascinated by nature above all else, the complexity of life and the way science allowed us to understand some of that. However, in my passion for discovering and unveiling, I have found that I don’t seem to fit into any of the already existing systems: academic -from my own desire- or the biotechnological/pharmaceutical private fields -for lack of experience, lack of merit, incompetence, ignorance, lack of opportunity, fierce competition, you name it-. So question still remains and stalks me: what is my path? what am I gonna do with my life?

As I have been discussing with a wise friend lately, I define myself as someone who is all over the place. I love science and discovering, finding the answers to so many questions. It’s a driving force in my life, seen as a career path or not. That same curiosity though, has taken me to always be interested in other venues such as journalism and languages. My eager for knowing is so strong that I feel the need to learn a different language just to understand how others express their needs and how they see the world from their own perspective. To the same extent my passion for travelling fits the purpose here. If I were to choose something to do with limitless amounts of money, that would undoubtedly be travelling. Be a connoisseur of people and their customs, learning from their cultures, I find just as much passion in that as I do when I do cloning and expression of recombinant plant acid phosphatases in E. coli. My passion for communication and writing also fuses in this whole picture. I have developed a strong interest in social networks and social media communication in the past few years. I possess an account in almost every single social networking platform that exists. Complex combo, isn’t it?

To this point it all looks mixed up and hard to separate. However, something that I am sure about is that my main drive in life and what has taken me to pursue the majority of things I’ve done so far is: the need for knowledge, the hunger for getting to know more things better, the necessity of understanding systems and people deeper. So although I haven’t decided yet what the direction of my future will be like, I am sure that it will once more be led by some more exploring of the unknown to make it known.

Bottom line: a dilemma at the moment. Should I insist in pursuing a careers in science beyond the consistent rejection I have been facing from companies and organizations for landing a humble position within their teams? Or should I abandon my stubborn determination and explore these new corners?
What is your opinion? What are your stories? Have you ever met a scientist with interest in becoming a journalist with passion for travelling and social media communication? Do I stand any chance in pursuing such a transition move? I would appreciate hearing about your own experiences.

As I recently read in the famous Richard Nelson Bolles’s “What color is your parachute?”, in this convulsive world we live nowadays people are expected to change their career paths on average once every 10 years. This sounds kind of scary at the beginning, since a conservative side of our minds thinks of the stability and seniority. What about freedom though? Knowing that we count on the chance of reinventing our own reality once every decade tells us of the so many chances we have to get to know our likings so much better and finally decide what really interests and excites us. After all, this whole conundrum relies on the same old mistakenly-cliched “pursue of happiness”.