The Current

Are short-term jobs the new normal?

You've heard it before — that there's no such thing anymore as a job for life. Now even the minister of finance says contract to contract — short-term work — is the new reality. Others call the state of affairs, precarious and question why it has to be this way?
Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau says the government has to prepare for a cycle of short-term, high turnover, precarious employment because it's the new reality. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

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On Oct. 22, federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau commented that Canadians should get used to what he called "job churn'' — short-term employment that may include a number of career changes.

Morneau was clear that short-term contracts and high career turnover would continue to define young people's careers and says the government needs to prepare for it.

"It's going to happen. We have to accept that."

Not everyone agrees with the Minister's projections.

"On the one hand he's right," freelance writer and author of From Demonized to Organized: Building the New Union Movement, Nora Loreto tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

"Precarious work is a new normal. We're seeing full-time jobs replaced with part-time jobs."

But Loreto says Morneau is wrong to say this job churn phenomenon is new.

"Statistics show actually that for young people, and for Canadians in general, job tenure hasn't really changed," says Loreto, who will be speaking at NDP MP Niki Ashton's national forum on the rise of precarious work in the millennial generation.
Critics argue Finance Minister Bill Morneau's comments on short-term employment as the new norm, is not new at all. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

"What's happening here is Morneau is trying to make something that should not be palatable — be palatable to young people, to tell them to expect that their life is going to be a struggle, that they will not have the 'good job.'"

Liz Koblyk, a career counsellor at McMaster University's Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine, agrees with Loreto.

"This isn't really a new situation and it's only news because the finance minister said it, but for many job seekers this has been a reality for a while."

As for a career trajectory, Koblyk believes there wasn't really one to begin with.

"We typically imagine it's linear and yet we know in reality most people do transition — not just from job to job — but also career path to career path."

"So to expect that there's something here to hold us up against, I think it's a bit of a false opposition."

Colin Busby shares some of the confusion on Morneau's comments. He's an associate director of research at the C.D. Howe Institute.

"Job churn with respect to younger workers, I mean it's generally expected and it's been understood for a long period of time that young people entering the workforce particularly in the first five years… tend to move around."

Busby tells Tremonti that young workers are twice more likely than older adults to be laid off and have a lot more voluntary quits in terms of looking for work that they might desire.

He says issues around precarious employment need to be parsed out amongst a number of groups and individuals.

"It's true that youth might be more vulnerable to the challenges of precarious employment. But it's also true for newly arrived Canadians, for women in the labour force and [for] a lot of other people in the labour force."

Koblyk advises that young people looking for work should deliberately search for contracts that allow some kind of growth — whether that be exposure to a broader skill set or new content knowledge.

"One thing people can do is simply keep track of the impacts they're making so they can quantify it and position themselves for a better job search down the road."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Shannon Higgins, Pacinthe Mattar and Vancouver network producer, Anne Penman.