Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Future Work Experience

Alright guys, another fun topic I've been sitting on for a while,

I want to discuss with you all a conundrum which I'm sure has bothered all of us at one time or another growing up. The tautological statement "You need experience to get this job, so just get a job so you can gain experience" is a ridiculous by-product of our modern culture, especially when economic and socio-political times are so tough. The idea that someone is unable or unqualified to perform a task or complete a project because they have not yet done so already is actually fairly demeaning to most everyday people, especially in my generation. Those of us with university-level education are extremely familiar with the job application process in which required experience is almost impossible to attain, especially for young people. Of course, one of the main problems with the vastness and complexity of the internet is that for all the advancements and progress it has brought with it, many people are long entrenched in the old ways of doing things. Having spent the better part of a year searching with varying levels of enthusiasm for a job where I can apply specific knowledge I gained over the course of a university degree, I have found quite a few jobs whose description seems to perfectly match my knowledge base and piques my interest in terms of its pay, location and perks. However, without fail (so far at least) I find myself continually without a job.

I don't mean to come off as being ungrateful to any potential employers, or as though I am moping to people just like me who have found jobs the old fashioned way (90% having a connection, 10% walking into a business and pitching your brand directly in the hope that you have good timing). While I am running low on funds, I am by any metric still pretty far ahead of most other unemployed people. I have an apartment down-town in a highly populated metropolis, I have two degrees in a field which historically has placed many students in cushy jobs with little or no physical labour. I have amassed a fair bit of what most would call luxuries, in the meantime also accruing my fair share of student debt. Yes, it was my choice to spend a lot of that government money paying the older generations' property taxes in that I moved away from my parents in a fit of independence.

I am now faced with what will (on my current course) become crippling debt, if I cannot drastically alter this paradigm. If I had been able to peer into the future, knowing how the world would look in 2012 from way back in early 2006, I almost certainly would have made the choice not to enter university, or at least to take a shorter program. I admit that I was taken up in the beautiful dream of student life, where money quite literally grows on trees, and where seeing seas of enthusiastic faces eager to learn overpower logic and reason. On tuition alone, I spent approximately 11 x $2200 = $24000 over 5 years for the privilege of attending classes and borrowing lab equipment and supplies to nourish my intellectual and scientific curiosity and passion. I made many, MANY mistakes over those years, emotional, physical, financial, logical, sexual, mathematical errors, which end up being some of the greatest lessons university could have ever taught me. Some of those mistakes were so atrocious I have trouble admitting to them even in friendly company, and I don't want to take any of them back. Everything about the university experience has been absolutely wonderful up until the contemplation of having to actually earn all of those wonderful lessons, dollar by dollar, and realizing how difficult that might actually end up being.

Now, I have spent the majority of my adult life working, I do not want to give the impression that I have done nothing to earn this education. Having spent time earning my keep in food service, manual labour, scientific research, providing teaching assistance in a laboratory setting, up to now, where I am a freelance writer on this page, earning about $0.03 per month on average. What I will say is that even in those jobs, I am stuck feeling like what I have earned is not commensurate with the effort I put in for those employers. I began working at age 15, for $5.90 an hour (minimum wage at the time), and I vividly remember getting that money and seeing the world open up its doors for me, welcoming me into the work force with open arms.

While employed at McDonalds, I was afforded regular raises, so that as I gained experience and did more for the company, I was rewarded in kind. However, I quickly found that raises did not keep up with inflation, so even after a year of employment I was still stuck at minimum wage, with new hires sometimes even being considered for raises before me. This led, unfortunately, to a pattern of underpay, especially considering the effort I could put in. The most I have ever earned was at a construction supply company called Totem (Rona), manually loading and moving lumber and other supplies in the hot summer sun 8 hours at a time for $13/hr (which again seemed great at the time). This was the summer of 2007, and really reinforced that I was doing the right thing in terms of getting my education. I certainly didn't want to spend my life doing manual labour. That $13/hr pay rate remains to this day the best I have ever been compensated, and now that I have finished my degrees, I am currently entertaining offers of part time work for minimum wage again, just as I did 9 years ago.

I know that I have many, if not all of the skills necessary to be much more than proficient at most any job in the world. Save for jobs which require advanced degrees (doctor, engineer, nuclear physicist, etc.), I can perform standard tasks above and beyond the levels most people would consider necessary for employment. More than anything else, I want to be able to perform at a job where some of my day is spent thinking critically about decisions that will impact the world. I don't think this is too much to ask, and I should have to spend much more time grinding my brain against the internet or the pavement to get an opportunity to do that.

The reason for this logic is pretty simple really, allow me to break it down. As an undergraduate student, and a grad student (though to a lesser extent), it was our weekly, or sometimes two-or-three-times-a-weekly requirement to walk into a room with a set of instructions (or sometimes no instructions) and a collection of seemingly random materials, and perform or devise and carry out the required method in a matter of a few hours time. We were then to leave that room and everything in it for a period of one to two weeks, prepare a report detailing the process and results of the time we had spent, and submit it for grading. I have four years of experience being dropped into various situations with little or no idea what I am supposed to be doing, and figuring it out. If we didn't figure it out, not only did we do poorly on that particular report, but all subsequent sections would now be more challenging because they are based on prior knowledge. All of my colleagues went through the exact same process, and we are now being subjected to having our candidacy for jobs limited to things which we are expected to have done for years. This is after having undergone substantial training in on-the-fly, seat of your pants problem-solving with minimal instruction and little to no supervision. Some people certainly don't handle that kind of pressure well, but at least give the rest of us a chance to be able to prove ourselves before rejecting us completely. At this point, I would say I could get a job, applying for jobs for which I am not qualified, as I have plenty of experience doing that. Although, from my results thus far, I can assure you that I am not good at it.

ps. I am looking for work, in case you couldn't tell. If you or somebody you know is looking for somebody awesome to give money to, odds are I'm perfect for that role. Pass along cv.robattrell.com if that's the case.