Sunday, August 14, 2011

Random Thoughts and Musings

A lot has happened since I took a bit of a sabbatical with the dawn of summer; and many of those events are worth talking about. Jack Layton's temporary leave of absence to battle cancer (and our best thoughts are with Jack as he goes through this); the insertion of rookie MP Nycole Turmel as interim NDP leader, not to mention her ties to separatist parties in Quebec; and not to forget that a Conservative Cabinet Minister also has Bloc Quebecois ties...

Yes, truly there is a lot to talk about. However, I think that right now those issues are frankly non issues. Speculating on Layton's absence and what it means for the NDP is, in my opinion, in poor taste. Yes, Jack is a charismatic leader who helped bolster the NDP result in the last election; but there are other factors in play that made Quebec turn to the NDP as well. As such, speculating that his absence (temporary or otherwise) will be a turning point for the NDP is in very poor taste.

As for Turmel and Cabinet Minister Lebel, they are open to changing their minds. Turmel suggests that she joined a separatist party to support a friend, and also because they were the only socially progressive party to vote for provincially. Lebel has not answered questions as to why he held a Bloc Quebecois membership for almost eleven years.

The great thing about democracy is the ability to change your mind. As times change, people will re-examine positions that they hold and decide whether or not they can stand by what they used to believe in. As I've mentioned before on this blog, there were times in high school where I thought I may have been a Liberal; proof that people do examine their beliefs, perhaps.

Needless to say, I've only ever been a dues paying member of the NDP; but if I felt that the party no longer represented the things I wanted in society, then I'd have to re-examine whether or not I could belong to such a party.

The short of it is that people will change, and political parties will change as well. The Conservative Party of Stephen Harper, for example, could hardly be called the Conservative Party of John A. Macdonald. Much like the Liberal Party of Michael Ignatieff (or any other of their former leaders in the past decade) could be called the same party of Mackenzie King.

And there's also the issue of cherry picking. Turmel's defense is that she was supporting a friend AND that they were the only socially progressive party provincially. This is a VALID defense. Why? Ask a Conservative who thinks Global Warming is a problem.

Despite personally believing in the need to protect the environment, that person supports the Conservatives and their non-existent environmental platform if only because they identify strongly with another part of that party's agenda. Say lower taxes, or their opposition to certain social issues.

As such, since those issues mean more to them, they are willing to overlook a poor environmental record as long as other issues are met.

All of us have done this. Again, using myself, I've said many times I don't support abolishing the Senate. Yet, the NDP does. But my commitment to social justice means more to me than worrying about the Senate; as such, I'm willing to overlook that issue in favour of others. Turmel suggests that this was the same case.

Surely, we can't be the only two Canadians who have overlooked one part of a party's platform because we liked another part of it. I would defend Lebel's actions, however, I don't have any defense for him given that he is not talking about why he was a member of the Bloc Quebecois. If he simply stopped believing in the party, then that's his right to change his mind.

There, two thorny issues defused in less space than this blog usually takes. And now, more so on to what I wanted to talk about.

For the record, all numbers I'm citing come from the following source: 2011 Labour Force Survey.

There has been a lot of talk about how Saskatchewan is 'booming'. Since the election of the Wall Government, almost four years ago now, Saskatchewan has been in a period of economic 'growth'. The Wall Government, has of course, taken all the credit for the situation despite coming to office in the middle of the boom.

It's as if the day after the election, all the Saskatchewan Party MLAs had their memories erased and the last few years of NDP government had never happened and all good things in the province were directly because of them. Of course, anything wrong that happened was immediately placed at the feet of the previous government. Again, cherry picking.

Our government has been so gung-ho on the idea of Saskatchewan booming that they took some rather unusual tactics to defend the idea. Who can forget the Saskatchewan Party commercials attacking NDP Leader Dwain Lingenfelter for being 'down on Saskatchewan', simply because he was talking about problems with the 'boom' and how it was not affecting everyone.

In fact, simply having the audacity to claim that Saskatchewan's boom had gone bust would make you an immediate enemy of the Saskatchewan Party Government. Yet, almost every quarter the Sask Party comes out and talks about how good Saskatchewan is doing economically. They've talked about how we're below the national average for unemployment and how our economy has generated jobs.

Yet let's look at the numbers, since they can do more than I can:

As of July 2011, 532,600 were employed in this province; roughly a little over half the population of the province. This number is down 4,600 from June of 2011; so in June we had 537,200 people working in the province.

The unemployment number is 29,500 people in the province, a raise of 5,600 from June 2011. Now, in a province of barely a million people...In fact, in a province where 29,500 people could be the size of a small city, how is this a boom?

The Wall Government has said that Saskatchewan has weathered the economic storm that has struck the rest of Canada, and indeed the rest of the world. Yet, these numbers are painting a very different picture.

Now, I'm going to do something that I don't usually like to do on this blog. By which I mean I'm going to get personal. These numbers are more than just numbers to me, because I am one of the 29,500 people in this province who is looking for work.

In fact, since convocating from University in 2009, I have been on the constant search for work. And rather than put out facts and figures, perhaps a more personal perspective can explain why Saskatchewan is not as rosy as the Wall Government would have you believe.

As I said above, I convocated from the University of Saskatchewan in 2009. I was a decent student, and yes I could have applied myself a bit better and improved my grades, but on the whole I did mostly well within my classes. In the lead up to my decision to undergo a degree in political studies, I met with advisers and various professors and asked about career choices and other options.

I was always told that while it was an open topic, having a B.A. would in and of itself be a door opener to professional positions ranging from the public to the private sectors. Naturally, I took them at their word and figured that in four years time I would be working within the civil service or somewhere in the private sector.

I worked, briefly, as I attended university. But I found that it was too difficult to juggle both the expectations of work and school work, particularly after being stuck at work until 3am with a final in less than 7 hours. As such, I resigned that job and focused on my schooling.

During summer, was when I noticed the problems that were lying ahead. I had a great degree of difficulty finding summer employment, even back when times were 'better' in Saskatchewan. Despite sending out hundreds of applications, I received very few interviews and worse never heard back from those interviews.

Of course, school would start again and then search for work would be put on hold until next summer. And then the exact same cycle would start again.

As I entered my final year, the bubble began to burst. The economic downturn struck the world markets and I found myself convocating in one of the worst economic crisises since the Great Depression. All the while, the talking heads of government tried to keep us from panicking and told us everything would be well.

After all, who could forget both Stephen Harper and Jim Flaherty boldly declaring before the 2008 election that no recession was on the horizon...And then after getting elected, having the put up stimulus money to battle the massive recession.

Regardless of this economic worry, I put my nose to the grindstone and got to work sending out application after application to various job choices within my field. I even turned to the Saskatchewan Gradworks Program, which was designed to help recent graduates find placement and gain experience in their fields.

Now, I'm perhaps going to shoot myself in the foot here, but I had a lot of problems with the Gradworks program. So much so, that I sent a rather sarcastic filled e-mail to the site administrator. The problem is that the site shows you when an application has been received by the employer, usually a crown corporation, and then shows you when your application has been viewed by said employer.

Nine times out of ten, my application status was never even viewed by the employer before someone was placed into the job opening. Allow me to restate that, someone was hired before all the applications were reviewed. Needless to say, that was the last straw that led to my e-mail to the site administrator...Asking if either the website was slow to update or if the applications were just not being passed along properly.

Despite pinning some hopes on this program as a means of getting more experience, I found myself in a position where a year had gone by and 2009 had become 2010. In accordance with the Gradworks Program, I was no longer eligible to apply for any of the postings since I was no longer considered a 'recent' graduate.

As more and more time went by, more and more applications were sent out. And despite some promising interviews, I never found myself on the end of a phone call saying that I'd gotten the job. In fact, I found myself in the unenviable position of avoiding my mailbox because I'd received so many 'thank you for your application, but...' letters.

By this point, I was beginning to get rather desperate. I expanded my horizons and started applying for jobs that I wouldn't have considered before.

Allow me to explain that statement, less a sound like a pretentious *expletive deleted*.

I was, and am, looking for a career not a job. I'm was looking for something that allowed me to contribute to my community, and gave me a sense of satisfaction in knowing that I was doing good out in the world around me. Despite being a necessary position, sling coffee or waiting tables just didn't have the kind of community impact I was hoping to make.

However, a light at the end of the tunnel arose. I received a call back from an application, and met with the manager and one of the other hiring people of a chain that shall remain nameless. Ironically enough, the other hiring person was someone I had known practically all my life, as they were a type of family friend.

So, needless to say, I ended up getting that job. Now, while it wasn't perfect...If only because my first hour of work was lost to pay for parking that was not provided to employees (or when forced to use heated parking during -40 winter days, a whole day's wages), the job itself was not that bad. I even found myself enjoying the work, despite some initial hesitance.

I say that, because the job I was hired for is also something that is done on a government level. However, this job is not a government job. As such, you do the same work as a government employee but for less pay and no benefits. The social democrat in me had some reservations about this, and I was even worried that other social democrats I knew would judge me differently for taking such a job, but it was a paycheque.

I worked there for about 2 and 1/2 months when fate stepped in and decided that it was time to stop. I say that, because as more dedicated readers will know, I required surgery. Without getting into too much detail, I found myself on the receiving end of a ingunial hernia. As such, I more or less lost the ability to lift heavy objects and stand for long periods of time without a great level of discomfort.

I informed my superiors immediately, and we talked about options. I tried working, even light duty, but the discomfort level was sufficient enough to prevent me from working. As such, in light of my inability to work, I was effectively let go from the position.

Keep in mind, that I was still in a 'probationary' period of 3 months. Since I had not left this probation period, I was subject to termination without explanation. And effectively, that was what happened. Of course, the management would likely say differently (given that you can't legally fire someone due to a health issue) but I'll never know since I was allowed to be let go without cause.

I had my surgery in May, and have now more or less recovered back to 100% health. And since about June, have been scouring the employment ads yet again for employment. To date, I would say that since being let go in January, I have sent out around 120 job applications.

To date, I have received zero call backs. As for job applications before October 2010, I have officially lost count but the number might even warrant 4 figures.

Now, I'd like to talk a bit about why I've shared this personal story with you all. I think, I hope, that I am a qualified individual with a certain number of skill sets. However, despite having these qualifications, I find myself unable to put them to use. All this at a time when our government is standing out there and telling us that the job market is improving.

The truth of the matter, in my opinion, is as follows:

1.) All the jobs we've gained are exactly that: Jobs, not careers. People are finding themselves in positions where they are working more hours and getting less pay out of it. They are finding themselves in part-time jobs where benefits, such as dental and pension plans, are non-existent. They are finding themselves in jobs where employers do as much as they can to 'classify' workers as 'part-time' to prevent having to pay them more.

(We should all be familiar with the Wal-Mart practice of placing part-time workers at 39.4 hours a week, just .6 hours short of being classified as a full-time worker; thus denying them the privileges that come with full-time status.)

2.) The economic crisis has the job market shrinking, not expanding. This goes with observation 1; the jobs we gain do not allow a person to really keep up with inflation and rises in cost of living.

3.) Employers want the most gain with the least amount of worry. There is an old mentality from the industralization of Great Britain during the 1800s; the thought process runs that there are hundreds, or thousands, of people out of work. As such, if an employee wants more it is cheaper to fire them and replace them with someone who will be happy to have the work for a cheaper wage.

This is a process we are seeing. Employers are able to demand more from their workers, and give less, because they know that the employee will not risk losing their job. And further more, we all know that there are people lining up who will take that job once it is open.

4.) It's not what you know, it's who you know. I'm not surprised that the first job I was able to get outside of university also happened to be in a place where I knew someone. More and more hiring processes seem to be based more along the lines of patronage and nepotism than ever before in our economy.

Let's face it; a job in a private sector company is much more likely to be given to the under-qualified son of the boss' golfing buddy than the qualified college graduate just starting out in the field. Even if both candidates ARE qualified, the one who knows someone inside the company stands a better chance to getting the job because of their connections.

5.) In this economy, smart is the new stupid. This may be a stretch, but allow me to explain. Each time I talk with my mother on the phone, she always reminds me that I should find something to do just to make a bit of money...And while I'm working there, keep my eyes open and apply for better jobs.

The problem is, employers are also keeping their eyes open for this type of thing. A college graduate applying to work at Tim Hortons is like a former CEO of a fortune 500 company applying to work in a daycare centre: It reeks of a temporary situation.

Many companies would prefer that if they take the time to train someone, and what have you, that that person will at least be around for awhile. They don't want to hire someone who turns around in six months and tells them to start looking for a replacement because they finally landed their dream job.

To a degree, this is an understandable position. Personally, I'd hate to throw someone in the lurch like that. If I take a job, I'm taking it because I expect to be there for a long time, not to use it as a stepping stone. Hence why I'm looking for a career, not a job.

But it is, in my opinion, common practice now for over-qualified candidate to be immediately removed from consideration because this thought is at the forefront of an employer's mind. Why hire them if they will only stick with us for a few months?

In my opinion, as someone who has been habitually unemployed for far too long, those are the real problems facing our marketplace. They're also the problems that no one in government is talking about.

The Wall Government is happy if job numbers rise slightly, even if we lose full-time positions but make it up in part-time positions, simply because the numbers look good as long as no one finds out the full story.

But the problem remains that we are doing nothing to create real innovation in the economic marketplace. We are not laying the foundations for the jobs of tomorrow; for jobs that require a university education or specific trades training. Rather, our government is content for worse jobs taking the place of better jobs.

And that is the true tragedy of the situation. Those who want to work, and have the ability and qualifications to do so, are finding themselves too qualified for minimum wage and not connected enough to get a career in their field.

This is a perfect storm of a situation. I love Saskatchewan, I couldn't imagine leaving my home province...But it is starting to reach the point where I have to consider doing that, just to get a career in my field.

And I guarantee I'm not the only university graduate who feels that way. If Saskatchewan doesn't begin to step up and truly provide jobs for our university graduates, we're going to experience a brain drain the likes of which this province hasn't seen before. And judging by the past, it will take decades to lure those professionals back.

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