By Lauren Strapagiel
The global financial crisis cost Pouya Farzam his summer job.
The third-year mechanical engineering student had an in. His uncle worked at the GM plant in Michigan and was going to help Farzam find a job at the Oshawa plant.
But then GM announced it was closing Oshawa’s truck plant and thousands of workers would be laid off. The company asked the provincial government for a $25 billion bailout. But Farzam, who wants to gain experience and pay off some of his student debt before he graduates, will have to keep on truckin’.
Now he’s considering going to George Brown after Ryerson for more education, and he’s extended the job hunt overseas.
“Dubai mostly, they pay really good, it’s easy to get work there,” said Farzam, “Here, if you go to a company they say they already have too many applicants.”
Farzam’s story is a common one for up-and-coming Ryerson graduates.
“It’s one of the worst years to graduate in a long time,” said Meny Grauman, an economist at CIBC World Markets. “Hiring will be down across the board.” Grauman said jobs connected to the finance sector are going to suffer big time. Insurance, construction and real estate are a going to take a hit, as well as imports and commodities, which means engineering jobs connected to oil and energy will be more scarce.
Grauman said he expects the unemployment rate to break seven per cent within the next year. Statistics Canada’s employment report said that employment in the private sector declined by 20,000 jobs in October. Since then, Ontario has been declared a have-not province and Stephen Harper, who earlier said “the fundamentals of our economy our strong,” is eating his words and declaring a looming national recession. Industries and institutions are being bailed out with tax dollars and stocks continue to plunge. This leaves Ryerson students wondering if their four years of hard work will get them the jobs they’re hoping for.
“We were promised initially that we would have jobs, now that’s gone to shit,” said fourth-year nursing student Kaye Gonzalez, 23. “It’s really frightening, it’s scary. A lot of people come into nursing for the [job] security.”
In October, along with revealing a $500 million deficit, the Ontario government announced it is delaying its promise to hire 9,000 new nurses, attributing both to the the fallout of the U.S. economy creeping north. Nursing students are feeling the crunch as their career prospects dwindle.
“I’m kind of disappointed ‘cause they made a promise and they took it back,” said Chrysan Go, 19, a second-year nursing student. “I entered nursing because I figured I’d be guaranteed a job, but now I don’t know.”
Carlo Sebastian, 25, a nursing graduate, clinical instructor at the George Brown nursing site and emergency room worker, has seen this in motion. He said that graduates may have trouble finding full-time work, but can work two part-time jobs instead to gain experience. He adds that graduates may not get the work they wanted because nursing graduates will probably have better luck at small community hospitals even if it’s not their first choice.
Hospitality and Tourism Management students, suffering from the downturn in the finance sector, may not get what they want either.
“Short-term, yes, there’s going to be some turmoil,” said David Martin, Director of Hospitality and Tourism Management. He said that students “may not get the job they want right out the door.” Martin said companies are “cutting the fat” and getting rid of unneeded employees, so for the mean time, upper management employment will be tight.
“I’m afraid of not getting the job that I want that I prepared for for four years,” said third-year hospitality and tourism management student Livia Gotardi, 23. Hospitality graduates have been calling the school looking for placements, unable to find jobs on their own, said Gotardi. To protect herself, Gotardi is learning French and going on an exchange trip to Australia to gain international experience.
Saif Rahman, 22, a third-year electrical engineering student, made efforts to get a leg up in the working world only to find out the reality of engineering in a recession.
“I did co-op after second year and I have seen the industry as it is,” he said. Rahman’s placement was at Hydro One, where he said other co-op students too jobs instead of going back to school. They jumped on the opportunity rather than risk a job hunt after graduation. Rahman was tempted to go this route but decided not to, knowing that without a completed degree, companies could pay him less.
Rahman is worried about what his degree will get him in a recession. “Right now we’re studying programming, they don’t pay you for that,” he said. “Even if you get in somewhere they want a master’s.”
When Ryerson’s new academic plan was passed last summer, the budding economic crisis was not taken into account, said Alan Shepard, Provost and VP Academic.
“If we were looking at a 20 year depression, certainly we would want to look at everything,” he said.
He said the plan was designed for the long haul and any short-term economic trouble shouldn’t make a significant difference. Any changes would be small and within faculties that could look back and adjust specific courses to prepare students.
Some of the names recruiting engineering students at Ryerson include Simcore, IBM and Imperial Oil. Nortel Networks also used to recruit at Ryerson but has implemented a hiring freeze, said Ian Ingles, Employment Services Coordinator of Ryerson’s Career Centre. Nortel stock has dropped from $15 at the start of the year to 43 cents on Nov. 20.
The Canadian Association of Career Educators and Employers (CACEE), a non-profit association of campus recruiters and university career centres, projected that their members would be doing 47 per cent less campus recruiting in 2009, and those estimates were given before the economic meltdown.
“Since then, the world has definitely changed,” said CACEE executive director Anne Markey, who expects the levels of recruitment to drop further. “I think [employers] are being very cautious,” said Markey.
Amanda Ono of the recruitment firm Quantum Management Services says that in any economic climate, “you have to acknowledge that you’re not going to be a CEO at 22.” And you’re not going to get their salary either.
Ono says that an average starting salary for those with a BA is around $28,000 to $35,000 a year, going up to $38,000 to $45,000 for those with a BComm or BSc.
“Not a lot of hope that they’re going to be rising,” said Grauman. He said that starting salaries will not change, but bonuses are likely to be significantly reduced or eliminated altogether.
But fresh grads do have some advantages, said Zel Spillman, the co-op placement officer for the MMPA program at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.
“More so than ever companies will survive if they have the best people working for them,” said Spillman, and right now the “best” are those who can come in with fresh ideas such as recent graduates, said Spillman. He said that companies are getting rid of “dead wood,” established employees who took it too easy for too long and contributed to the economic system that failed.
“The truth is that if [students] show that they can turn companies around, they will always get a job,” said Spillman.
Ono agrees. She says that companies are currently performing a “life-boating exercise,” seeing which employees are most important to keep in the company. She says that if a graduate can bring enthusiasm to the table, the company will want them on the boat. One said graduates can also focus on working at small companies where they’ll be handed more responsibilities and reap greater experience.
Grauman offers a small flicker of hope. As the government distributes bailout packages, receiving industries may experience a boost. So will public sector jobs that deal with infrastructure.