Metro Morning

'Job churn' preventing young workers from planning for future

Vass Bednar spoke to Metro Morning about what it feels like to be precariously employed, and how young workers might find a light at the end of the tunnel.

Federal panel on young people and work looking at short contracts, unpaid internships, instability

Vass Bednar says she sees ways to change the fortunes of precarious young workers, by taking aim at unpaid internships and encouraging employers to give people their first jobs. (CBC)

Earlier this month, the federal government appointed Vass Bednar to chair a panel that looks at the issues young people face finding and keeping jobs. She spoke to CBC's Metro Morning about what it feels like to be precariously employed, and responded to comments made by Finance Minister Bill Morneau about young people getting used to "job churn" — working many jobs over the span of their career. 

Matt Galloway: Does the idea of "job churn" ring true for you? Have you experienced it?

Vass Bednar: I have. I've been out of grad school for six years, and I've had four jobs. I've been lucky, they've all been good jobs, and I haven't had a period of unemployment in between, but it's been all one-year contracts.

MG: What is it like to live on one-year contracts?

VB: On the one hand, you are grateful and open to the experience you are getting and the skills you're building. But you have an eye out, there's a part of you that's always on the prowl for the next opportunity, or unsure if your contract will be renewed.

MG: What did you make of what Finance Minister Bill Morneau said, that young people need to get used to short-term work?

VB: I was relieved when I heard him say that. It was government acknowledging what is a statistical reality in the labour market. People are making more job changes over time, and that's something that is new and that our policies will have to respond to. I didn't hear it as saying 'suck it up.' I heard a government acknowledging increasingly precarious work.

MG: There are a lot of people who felt abandoned by what he said. Do you understand that anger?

VB: I completely understand, but here's how I think [what he said] is productive. It helps employers think about some of the myths around young people that are persisting in the workplace. If I were to apply to work for you, Matt, maybe you'd look at my CV and think, 'she's not a very loyal person' — but I am. And I'd love to invest my time someplace for a longer period.

MG: What does it mean to come of age in a time when there is very little job security?

VB: I think it's really colouring people's perceptions of work overall. Early work experiences are very formative. I think it's confusing, it makes people very wary of the time investment they are going to make. On the other hand, I think our post-secondary institutions are increasingly attuned to helping people find internships and co-ops to help build those bridges out of school and into work.

MG: If you're worried about having a job in three months, it would be hard to plan for the future or, for example, look at buying property.

VB: You can't. You can't plan a family either, and you can't plan where you are going to be.

We don't take pride in giving young people their first jobs. Maybe that's something that can change.- Vass Bednar

MG: Your panel has been asked to assess the barriers faced by youth in finding and keeping jobs. Is there anything you can say to a government that can change the labour market right now?

VB: Some of what we can say to government around unpaid internships can change the labour market. We've done a great job in Ontario shutting that down, but it's not happening in every province. Also incenting employers to take on younger people. We don't take pride in giving young people their first jobs. Maybe that's something that can change.

With files from Metro Morning