“The Work Shift” series is written for Daily Hive by Gerald Narciso, a Vancouver-based freelance journalist, as he speaks with millennial and Gen Z workers who are navigating the post-pandemic job market in real time.
Daniel Afolabi looks ahead and sees a post-graduation future that is both clear and a little bit foggy.
On paper, the University of British Columbia finance major has done his part to succeed in the real world. The 23-year-old has completed five internships, including at RBC and Procter & Gamble. He has volunteered extensively and even served as the VP of finance and treasurer at the UBC Black Student Union. This month, the Calgary native graduates with honours.
But even with a stacked resume, Afolabi joins over 70,000 post-secondary graduates in BC who are entering a vulnerable job market and economy. A new survey by Goldman Sachs said that 86% of Gen Z interns believe a recession is on the horizon.
“I think I still have a little bit of anxiety because I’m leaving that safety net of being a student for the first time,” says Afolabi.
“As we get deeper into spring, it’s definitely a bit of an anxious period for a lot of my friends that are still looking.”
Hannah Kazemi, 22, who is graduating from Simon Fraser University with a degree in political science and a minor in English, is one of those on the hunt. She works part-time as a community services assistant at the City of Surrey (where she has been since 2017) but has been aggressively applying for roles in journalism and public relations.
She has built a strong writing portfolio at SFU and has networked, but interview callbacks have been few and far between. The competition has been fierce, and she has been ghosted by companies she had early correspondence with.
“It can be a little bit discouraging sometimes,” admits Kazemi.
For many of this year’s graduates, this will be their first professional job related to their studies — if they can find employment at all. This next generation of workers faces an affordability crisis and a possible recession.
Since high school, Kazemi, who lives at home, estimates that she’s allocated 50 to 75% of her City of Surrey paycheques into savings. But with the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Vancouver at $2,743, according to Rentals.ca, she questions if she will earn a living wage anytime soon.
“I’m wanting to move into that second phase of my adult life and gain a little bit more independence,” Kazemi says. “But moving out is hard if you don’t have the sustainable income to do that.”
Unfortunately, she’s not alone. Afolabi says while he has secured a position as a management consultant, he still doesn’t have good financial footing.
“I feel like my parent’s steps were like, get a house, then car, then a second car, pay off the mortgage and get a second property,” Afolabi says. “Where I can’t even imagine owning a car right now.”
“Starting from a deficit”
As part of the early millennials, Candy Ho remembers living through 9/11 and the 2008 economic crisis. Now, an assistant professor of Integrative Career and Capstone Learning at the University of the Fraser Valley, she observed Gen Z students enduring their own extraordinary events.
“This current generation has legitimate reasons to be stressed,” says Ho. “Figuring out what that next step after graduating is already anxiety-inducing. Then you add COVID, the pandemic, and economic uncertainty into it, and it’s even more so.”
For Kazemi, adjusting to the times has also included managing her mental health. Entering SFU in 2019, she was part of the prestigious inaugural cohort of the Beedie Luminaries Scholarship program.
She visualized a traditional university experience that included vibrant campus life, in-person human connection, and studying abroad in Europe.
“I didn’t have a desk for the first year of the pandemic and I was doing Zoom classes, like on my bed,” says Kazemi. “Thinking back, that feels so weird and apocalyptic.”
Kazemi’s anxiety spiked during the pandemic, causing her to seek therapy. Through regular sessions with a counsellor, she learned to slow down. She discovered her passion for writing and became a regular contributor to The Peak, SFU’s student newspaper, covering everything from pop culture to self-care. She has been a mentor to younger students.
“I’ve really enjoyed the last year more than I enjoyed any other parts of my undergrad,” she says. “I’ve just kind of surrendered myself to the process and I’ve let myself feel the anxiety and also feel those really cool moments.”
Being young and Black, the social justice movement — from George Floyd to Ahmaud Arbery — of the past few years was also a defining period for Afolabi. Living in a city that is just 1.2 % Black, according to the 2021 census, he wonders how race impacts his career prospects.
“It feels like I’m starting from a deficit,” he says.
As the son of hard-working Nigerian immigrants, education was instilled in Afolabi at an early age growing up near Calgary. His defence mechanism has been to overachieve to even the playing field.
“I’d love to be proven wrong,” Afolabi says. “There’s always a chance that whoever is on the other side of the laptop screen may have a built-in perception of me that I’m already going to have to change.”
Prior to securing his consulting job, he had spent months interviewing with several firms.
“I was pretty burnt out by the end,” says Afolabi.
In between completing final exams at SFU in April and walking at her convocation ceremony in early June, Kazemi is making up for lost time.
She is currently on a three-week vacation in Europe, exploring countries like Portugal, Croatia, and Italy. It’s not the semester abroad she envisioned, but she is expanding her horizons and making memories with her boyfriend and her sister.
But there is an intimidating reality waiting for her back home: she is still without a journalism or PR job.
“I don’t know what the future is going to look like, I don’t know where I’m going to live, I don’t know who I’m going to be in 10 years,” Kazemi says. “So, yeah, there’s kind of like a dichotomy in that, I guess.”
There are reasons for new grads to be encouraged.
A recent survey conducted by CERIC, a Canadian nonprofit aimed at advancing career development for young people, revealed that most companies prioritize hiring, developing, and retaining entry-level talent with strong soft skills like communication and leadership.
“Hiring managers are starting to look at things like, ‘Are you resilient? Are you adaptable? Do you have a strong work ethic?’” says Ho, who is also the vice-chair of CERIC. “Because if you have those things, then everything else is trainable.”
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Ho points out that these graduates have already displayed abilities to be adaptable and resilient in responding to the extreme challenges of the last few years.
The rise of remote and hybrid work during the global pandemic has blessed new grads with flexibility options and widened the potential job pool.
Flexibility and being fluid are top of mind for Afolabi right now. Vancouver is too expensive for him and he has large student loans to tackle soon. Immediately after graduation, he will forfeit the keys to his apartment in the Dunbar neighbourhood, return to Calgary and save money ahead of his new role. His future: TBD.
“I feel like if life has taught me anything in the last few years, it’s that our generation can be scrappy when we need to, and we’ll figure something out,” he concludes.
Now, Afolabi, Kazemi, and the rest of the new grads forge ahead. They will try to block out some of the painful parts of the pandemic and enter their new normal with a clean slate.
And hope for the best.
Read part 1 of the Work Shift series: How out-of-work millennials are navigating the new normal, part 2: The struggle is real. Even with a side hustle, part 3: Laid off couple in tech considers abandoning Canadian city, and part 4: Millennial bails on big city, high-paying corporate existence she despised.