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Graduates entitled to be entitled

by Emily White April 5, 2011
Graduates entitled to be entitled

Photo by Nav Pall

A few weeks after being hired as a supervisor at a summer camp, Daniel Blumer received an envelope in the mail. Inside was the camp’s monthly newsletter, which featured his headshot and a caption that read, “Daniel Blumer what a hottie. Sexy face, sexy body. What’s our hobby? Obsessing over you!” Half a decade later, the shriveled beige printout still remains tacked to the family fridge, a testament to his popularity and good looks.

The 24-year-old recalls a time when he did not feel so popular. After graduating from the John Molson School of Business in December 2009, he began his job hunt. Equipped with optimism and a bachelor’s degree in commerce, Blumer looked for a job in marketing, but quickly learnt that opportunity was limited in his specialty. Having majored in management, Blumer, then 22, decided to expand his search to include other business-orientated professions. But he drew the line at business, never willing to search outside the field he studied.

Blumer admits that his expectation to easily find a job in his field may come off as a sense of entitlement, but says that is only because of how he and his generation were brought up. “If we have put in the hours, have good grades, and graduate university, we have every right to have a sense of entitlement. We did what we were told would lead to success.”

According to Statistics Canada, 6.7 million Canadians were born between 1980 and 1995, a group known as Generation Y or Echo Boomers. As the children of Baby Boomers, the Gen-Yers have developed a reputation in the workforce for having a sense of privilege that affects their ability to adapt. However, as Blumer expressed, his generation has a right to feel entitled because they did what they were told was necessary to secure a job in their field.  While Blumer relied on his marks, other recent graduates are of the opinion that a degree must be accompanied by internships, work experience and references. In their experience, it was having these credentials that helped them get hired.

Trying to get that first job is only one of the struggles recent graduates will experience as they enter the workforce. A difference in work ethic between generations, a more rigid schedule and a realization that the company, not you, comes first, are just a few of the things Gen-Yers will have to get used to. There seems to be a divide of opinion over who should be adapting. Several sources argue that it is the responsibility of the company to adjust to the young worker, while others, even some recent graduates, feel it is the worker who must make the adjustment. Despite this difference in opinion, the majority agrees that, once given the chance, recent graduates can become very valuable to employers, offering fresh perspectives and a good understanding of the instantaneous nature of today’s society.

It is hard to prove yourself when no one gives you the opportunity — a lesson Blumer learnt in the weeks following his university graduation. Despite strong marks, a diploma and the pride of being the vice president of marketing for POWER-it OFF, a school project about electricity conservation at university featured on CTV, Blumer could not find a job. The recreational hockey goalie was not used to being rejected. Rather, he was used to being the one who rejected the advances of others. He felt demoralized.

Annalise Iten sympathizes with recent graduates like Blumer who expect that obtaining a job will be easy. Sitting within the yellow walls of her office at Youth Employment Services Montreal, the employment counsellor and director of YES Montreal’s job search program says that it is typical for recent graduates to be unaware that their excellent grades and breadth of knowledge do not automatically translate into a job. This struggle to secure employment does not seem to prevent the Gen-Yers from entering the workforce with high expectations and a sense of entitlement.

Iten, who prefers not to over-generalize, does say though that “young people” have different expectations than the older generations when it comes to their jobs. They expect to have a good work-life balance, flex hours, autonomy, little supervision from their bosses and to work on special projects. She also mentions that this generation’s work ethic “is to have fun, and that is very very important.”

This sense of entitlement has been attributed to many things, including enrolment of children in after-school programming, the immediacy provided by the Internet and just a lack of knowledge of the workforce.

One way to ensure that recent graduates do not enter the job market with this kind of attitude is to be honest with the students during the recruitment process, says Will Christensen, 35, a senior manager with accounting and consulting firm Deloitte. The Australia native now lives in Calgary, where he manages the company’s campus recruiting team, which visits universities across the country, including Concordia and McGill University, trying to recruit students. In his experience, the worst thing for an employer or potential employer to do is to set unrealistic job expectations.

“We spend a lot of time making sure that our people are telling students on campus as much as they can about what to expect — the good and the bad,” says Christensen. “We don’t want people coming and working for us thinking that everything is great at Deloitte and everything is perfect — it is far from. There are things that we work on and things that we strive and try to correct every year.” This, says Christensen, has prevented Deloitte from dealing with some of the characteristics often associated with Generation Y, and has left the company with young employees who are willing to work and put the effort in.

Katie Pidgeon, who graduated in communications from Concordia in 2008, is one Gen-Yer whose career track shows that some recent graduates are willing to put the effort in. On the night before leaving on vacation to Cuba, the producer recalls how she used to spend her free time during university doing internships and making contacts in her field. Pidgeon worked hard to stay in touch with these contacts by sending them emails, visiting their offices and taking them out for coffee. This allowed her to begin working nearly immediately after graduation as a production co-ordinator on two television series. Once they wrapped for the season, a recommendation from a co-worker helped her get a job working at Northern Lights Direct, a commercial production house where she was soon promoted to assistant producer.

Despite her own success, she is quick to admit that she has in fact grown up in a generation that expects everything quickly. “I think our generation expects to start off where it took our previous generations years to build,” she says. “My parents tell me that all the time, ‘You just want to be and have what it took us 20 years to work for.’”

The need for immediate results is something Iten has seen a lot of while working with clients at YES Montreal. She attributes it to the way things like jobs and lifestyles are marketed to the younger generations, where they are pitched in such a way that everyone believes they will experience success without having to try.

This does not mean we won’t work for it, says 25-year-old Pidgeon. “Because we are used to things being instantaneous and everything is just right at our fingertips, we are less likely to wait for the things that we want.” In no way, though does she think this has affected her ability to adapt to the workforce. She says if anything, it has enabled her to excel in an industry like communications, where things are constantly changing. Growing up with online and social media has made her generation better equipped to handle changes than those who have been working in the industry for 30 years and “now have to figure out how to work in an industry that’s changing from what they know.”

The ability to adapt to the workforce is not only the responsibility of young employees. According to Christensen, the ethos at Deloitte is that it is the responsibility of the company to adapt its style and approach to the new generation, simply because the demographics of the workforce are shifting. “You can’t continue to manage and operate a business the same way you did 50 or 60 years ago.”

Lori Krebs, manager of public relations at Beyond the Rack, a private online shopping club based in Montreal, is used to working among young employees, as the majority of the company, including herself, is under 35 years of age. The office has what she describes as a fast-paced environment, which attracts a lot of recent graduates. They tend to be lively, energetic, motivated and eager to learn, qualities the company see as a positive addition. But with the benefits of a young staff come downfalls like a high turnover rate and immaturity. This is understandable, says Krebs, 28, as many are unfamiliar with what it is like to work for a large company. In her experience, most eventually come to understand that unlike in school, they are no longer working for themselves, but are working for the greater good of the company. “They have to realize that everything is interrelated. Their job impacts every other department.”

This is what Iten describes as the young graduate’s learning curve. “They are no longer in school, they are hitting the workforce, they are earning a paycheck and now they’ve really got to be stepping up. It is a real learning curve and that is why it is difficult – because they are no longer functioning in the same capacity anymore.”

Disloyalty is another negative quality attributed to Gen-Y workers. They may not deserve this reputation though, since many recent graduates are only offered contract jobs, which are of a limited duration. This makes it unavoidable for them to move around.  It also seems that the recession has altered the way employees view their career path, human resources consulting firm Towers Watson reported. “In contrast to earlier studies, the 2010 results indicate that Canadians have moved away from the employment notion of being a ‘free agent’ to becoming the ‘marrying kind’ — seeking lifetime careers with just one or two employers,” reads the firm’s 2010 Global Workforce Study.

This feeling of attachment is one is familiar to Michael Shatsky, who, after graduating from Concordia with an MBA last year, began working for GlaxoSmithKline. While you are more likely to catch Shatsky in a pinstriped suit than a wetsuit, the certified scuba diving instructor is very happy working for GSK. Though he only sees himself keeping his current position as general territory representative for the respiratory and urology division another year, he does not hesitate to say that he sees himself at GSK long term.

As he entered the workforce, the former environmental sciences student was motivated to rise above the reputation his generation has for being unable adapt and for having a sense of entitlement, a reputation he feels is deserved. Part of this comes from the assumption that having pursued higher education, they have the answers to all of a company’s problems, and that these answers come from textbooks. When entering the workforce with such presumptions, individuals can become alienated from their peers. This is why Shatsky says it is important to come not only with textbook knowledge but also with a humility and willingness to learn. “We don’t need to reinvent the wheel — and nor are we expected to. We just need to bring a fresh and open mind to existing problems and see how we can work in synergy with the established team to achieve common goals.”

Working in teams, especially those where there are large age gaps between co-workers, can be a struggle for students fresh out of school. Although in Shatsky’s personal experience, he was treated well by his co-workers, he says, respect is never just given. The individual joining the team must earn it.

While respect is important, according to Iten, a willingness to adapt must be present in both the Gen-Yers and the co-workers. This can be difficult, she says, because “the older generations” tend to not always understand the struggles experienced by recent graduates, like the pressure put on them to find a job related to their field of study.

Blumer understands this pressure all too well. Even when he was unable to find a job, he refused to settle. “I never said to myself  ‘I am willing to work anywhere as long as I’m employed.’ To have that mentality, after three years of university, seemed kind of pointless.”  He says settling would be insinuating that his degree and past education were completely useless and unnecessary. To older people, this attitude might be read as the younger generations complaining and having overly high expectations, but Iten says these labels are unfair because the working world has completely changed for today’s youths. There are “way more options, far more precarious, so much more uncertainty,” factors made worse by the pressure put on graduates to find a jobs in their field. When there are no jobs, says Iten, it is a hard realization for graduates.

Eventually, Blumer was able to trade in his polo shirts and khakis for suits and ties when he was hired at Tempbridge Commercial Mortgages Inc., a private commercial mortgage lender. Looking back on his job hunt, he explains that while he never expected people just to give him a job, he did expect there to be more jobs available. He had told himself that getting the university degree was “the hard part” and that finding a job would be the part that just came naturally.

“In reality, the pursuit of a profession can be more stressful and time consuming than anything that university can throw at you.”


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