On Campus

The summer job hunt

Some students forced to accept low wages, jobs below their skill-level

Justin Cheng’s days are not structured around a summer job, but around the search for one. Each day, the 23-year-old master’s student devotes a few hours to his architecture portfolio and combs the Net for suitable job postings. He said he applies to at least one position per day, a steep decline from the daily average of five applications he sent out when his job hunt began nearly two months ago.

Cheng could likely bring in some cash by taking on freelance graphic design projects as he did throughout his undergrad years, but such jobs wouldn’t help him to further his long-term career prospects in his field of choice. “The pressure is to move the career forward, and that’s causing my inability to find a job at this moment,” the University of Toronto student said.

Cheng said he’s in the same boat as the majority of his classmates, all of whom have had to disregard their prior work experience in different industries and essentially start from scratch. The plum internships that extend through multiple summers and provide crucial career-boosts are few and far between, and Cheng believes the limited market is over-saturated with qualified candidates.

The result, Cheng says, is that employers can offer their limited job opportunities at relatively low salaries secure in the knowledge that eager graduate students would prefer to take home small paycheques rather than languish in the unemployment queue. Most architecture internships pay between $12 and $15 an hour, he said, but friends in other grad programs have had to consider internships that pay minimum wage.

This, combined with the limited supply of summer work, has taken a toll on him. “I think every unemployed person has a bit of a battle inside their own head and they eventually lose motivation,” he said. “I’m maybe at that stage now.”

If Cheng’s search for architecture work remains fruitless, he said he’ll revisit graphic design clients or even accept tutoring jobs. If he does, he will be one of many Canadian young adults working jobs beneath their skill level.

Last month, the Canadian Policy Research Network released a study that found 23.7 per cent of Canadians under 25 reported feeling over-qualified for their jobs. The dissatisfaction rate was the highest among the 16 countries included in the study. The findings are echoed in the experience of professional recruiters who deal with students struggling to get a foot in the door.

-with a report from CP

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