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A diverse set of transferable skills is mandatory for this generation.

Generation Y (Gen Y), also known as the millennials, is a generation of tech-savvy individuals, born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s. There are over 12 million Gen Y’ers in Canada — the largest demographic group since the baby boomers.

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Millennials are typically thought of as narcissist and entitled; however, they are also arguably the most adaptable and accepting generation — for example, the majority of them are comfortable with same-sex couples, having seen it most of their lives.

Furthermore, they are the most highly educated generation ever in Canada. In fact, according to Statistics Canada, a larger proportion of Canadians aged 25 to 34 obtained a post-secondary degree or diploma than any other age group.

Unfortunately, according to Paul Lorentz, executive vice-president of retail markets for Manulife, Gen Y’ers are also expected to be the first generation to be financially worse off than their parents.

Employment is a challenge

No matter which way you slice it, the employment picture for Gen Y is ugly. According to the Young and Jobless report published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the unemployment rate for Ontario youth between the ages of 15 and 24 is 16% to 17%, while Canada-wide it’s 13% to 14%. Both of these numbers fall well above the national unemployment rate of 7.2%.

Gen Y’ers faces challenges that their parents didn’t have, such as the increasing prominence of part-time work and corporate downsizing. According to a report by CIBC world markets, downsizing has an impact because Gen Y lacks experience and seniority, and consequently they are vulnerable to market changes.

Part-time work is an interesting topic because of the number of “involuntary” part-time workers. In 2012, more than 27% of part-time workers would have preferred to be working full-time, but couldn’t find a full-time job. This is the highest number of involuntary part-time workers since Statistics Canada started compiling data on this trend in 1976.

Unfortunately, precarious employment, short-term contracts and part-time work are the wave of the future, says Sandra Finkelstein, author of Gen Y book We’re Not Gonna Take it. This is a frightening upward trend that is affecting Gen Y and will have repercussions on the Canadian economy unless it is addressed, as part-time workers will have trouble contributing to the economy on $11.00 per hour.

What can Gen Y do?

One-third of today’s jobs will be gone by 2030, says Finkelstein. However, with the increasing prominence of technology and globalization there will be new opportunities that Gen Y’ers can pioneer. Social entrepreneurship, which involves creating innovative solutions that positively impact society with profits being a secondary goal, is an example of a career that Gen Y heavily supports. Canadian Craig Kielburger is a famous Gen Y social entrepreneur who started the Free the Children charity. To date the charity has built over 650 schools and currently has 45 projects on the go in developing countries. This type of career appeals to Gen Y because it helps the world become more sustainable, which is an important value for this generation, but also creates personal income if done outside of the non-profit realm.

No one knows exactly what the job market will look like in 30 years, so a diverse set of transferable skills is mandatory. In terms of academia, Gen Y has access to a tool that wasn’t available to previous generations: a website called Coursera that offers some of the world’s best university courses online and for free. You want to beef up your knowledge of statistics but are enrolled in an English literature program? Take Johns Hopkins University’s Data Science course. This is a great opportunity to beef up a resume in areas where knowledge is lacking.

Finkelstein says that skills outside of academia are equally important. Sports can improve team mentality, whereas, volunteering can improve interpersonal skills. According to a national survey, 79% of people who volunteered saw improvements in their ability to understand people, motivate others and deal with difficult situations.

They also need to ask better questions. Finkelstein says that contrary to popular belief, not everything can be found on Google. For example if a student is searching for a post-graduate program, typing “Does Centennial College have a business program?” is a bad question. Her advice is to get specific about your personal needs, then pick up the phone and ask the college about what business program integrates an environmental aspect, for example.

One topic that we continue to re-visit on is grants, bursaries and scholarships, which remain severely under-utilized in Canada. Apply for every form of financial assistance available.

Finally, never underestimate the power of networking. The key is connecting with every person you volunteer with, intern with or go to school with, says Finkelstein. One of these people will undoubtedly help with you future endeavours, whether it’s looking for a job, referral or career change.

In order to succeed, Gen Y’ers have to step up their game. It’s essential that they think bigger and expand their skill set at every turn. And when in doubt take advantage of the two traits that define this generation: acceptance and adaptability.

~ Ashley Redmond, Associate Editor, Morningstar Canada