Go to the websites of Carleton University or the University of Ottawa, and you’ll read about the many advantages for students that come with living in the nation’s capital.
As those admissions pages will tell you, Ottawa is a beautiful city in which to live and learn, with gorgeous architecture and lots of cultural events. If you’re at all interested in government or politics, it is the place to go. For some, it is a place to make their home when finished with their studies.
But are the new experiences and internship opportunities worth it if you can’t get a full-time job?
Over the past few years, according to Treasury Board numbers, the outlook for those considering a career in the federal public service has become grim. Although job cuts were not as bad as people thought they might be after 2012’s “austerity budget,” the federal government, once a prime destination for young graduates, is not going to be making many new full-time hires any time soon.
As of August 2014, the parliamentary budget office said the government is on track to eliminate another 8,900 jobs, in addition to the 25,800 jobs eliminated between 2010-11 and March 2014. The National Capital Region of Ottawa and Gatineau, that bastion of opportunity for young, civic-minded students, has lost the most jobs.
It’s easy to conclude the government won’t be greeting millennials’ long resumés, filled with unpaid internships and volunteer experience, with phone calls and enthusiastic smiles in this climate. And the job numbers came out before the bottom dropped out of the oil barrels. With the budget for the next fiscal year put on hold until April, the government may yet be forced to cut more jobs, not to finance a surplus, but simply to keep administering programs and services that already exist.
Even if the government keeps its plans, this might not help young professionals. All planned spending packages are targeted at higher-income families with children (or middle-class families, if you believe the finance minister that a family that makes $120,000 a year is middle class), so it’s doubtful there will be much of a place for young graduates, most of whom are trying to figure out how to pay off massive student loans so they might be able to afford to even have kids one day.
Tax breaks so that one spouse can stay home with children are so far away from the lived experience of most millennials that they might as well be on another planet. Or at least another country, one that isn’t set up for them and has no place for their talents.
Of course, things aren’t great for anyone, anywhere. Statistics Canada released new job numbers for 2014, saying there were a third fewer new jobs created than previously thought. The agency originally said there were 186,000 jobs created last year, but now it has revised the figure to 121,000.
A lot of people are trying to find work. But for young graduates who were told to take as many unpaid internships as possible in order to “get your foot in the door” or “get experience and build a portfolio,” it’s even scarier.
Columnists have devoted a lot of ink and pixels to the plight of the Canadian millennial. They’ve wondered why it is we can’t get jobs. They’ve made documentaries about our lack of prospects (the cheerfully-titled Generation Jobless, for one.) On the website of the Globe and Mail, there is even an interactive graphic you can use to find out whether your graduating class was better or worse off financially than the class of 1976. (Spoiler: worse.)
So millennials are told to revise their expectations downward. Take what you can get because you won’t get a prime job in your field. Those permanent jobs in government are an increasingly unlikely option.
But other industries that might attract young graduates here, such as journalism, offer few opportunities. Young journalists who want to cover Parliament are witnessing the parliamentary press gallery shrink year by year and the CBC slash jobs by the hundreds. People who have received glowing reviews at unpaid internships won’t be hired for anything except the most precarious of casual work, and that is if they are lucky.
Millennials have been shown to want meaningful work that gives back to the communities they live in. When you decide to make your home in a national capital, it seems as though public service and work in various institutions might be a way to do that.
But it’s not the only path open to us. A recent study commissioned by Bentley University shows millennials are more entrepreneurial than other generations, preferring to make their own opportunities rather than waiting for jobs to come to them.
They also prefer more flexible schedules and are not as invested in traditional career advancement. Even in conservative Ottawa, there are opportunities to be found and made.