January 23, 2017. 8:22 AM.
I sit at the back of the class, listening to my Calculus professor take attendance. An early morning wind rattles the windows and students are glancing furtively for familiar faces but finding few.
The usual procedure is followed. He begins, as he does every semester, by allowing each of us to introduce ourselves to the class. We are to state our names, hobbies, interests, and other aspects of us that we may feel are vital to share with our peers. As an afterthought, he adds the stipulation that we share with everyone our “dream job”.
My interest is piqued. This was a question that weighed heavily on my mind; a defining aspect of my identity. I sit, awaiting the usual answers. How many doctors? Lawyers?
I notice all of them. In every class, I find that I am bound to meet more than a few interested in such fields. Yet, despite the consistency of such answers, there is always one that outshines the rest: the most popular profession that students think of when asked such a question:
“I don’t know”.
Even in the groggy hours of the morning, in this classroom packed with students with as varied interests and talents as dancing, photography, and competitive swimming, nearly half of the students had no idea of what they wanted to do with their lives. There were no consuming passions, no “Eureka!” moments of self-discovery. The elusive “dream job” stayed just that: a fantasy.
Indeed, as the purported future of our nation, young collegiate students are pressured to decide – and decide quickly – where their lives are headed. What fields interest them? Will they be able to earn an acceptable income from their chosen profession? What programs in university should they apply for to ensure their success?
Seemingly, there is a general acceptance of ambiguous and uncertain life plans. “It’s ok”, our counselors and teachers tell us, “Take your time choosing your career, there’s no rush!” Reassurance after reassurance soothes our fears of making the most important decision of our lives. However, the anxiety remains. Indeed, our CEGEP careers serve to make us acutely aware of the importance of this choice. It grows until it is no longer a distant concern but a very pressing and very immediate issue.
There are, of course, a number of ways of dealing with this problem. There are many who have already planned their lives and careers to even the most minute detail, especially at Marianopolis College. You might encounter them anywhere; in competitive clubs, working part-time in and around the school, or hibernating somewhere in the maze of cubicles in our library. “I need to get into premed,” they’ll tell you. “Have you started applying for university?” “I want to start my own business by the time I’m 25.” Maybe they’ll even hit you with “Is an r-score of 35 good enough?”
Stress inducing questions aside, if one were to judge from the number of people in each program alone, it would seem as if more than half of our future workforce would be comprised of scientists, engineers, and doctors. The rest would either pursue a career in business and finance, or finally fulfill their passion for law.
The problem is that these particular fields are what is expected of us, as one of the highest ranked Colleges in the province. It is also limiting, and quite frankly, dangerous.
As Canadians, we live in a nation of service jobs. Yet, many of these same industries suffer from a plethora of difficulties. Some, such as law, suffer from an oversupply of labor. In fact, according to a Harvard Law study, Canadian lawyers number on average 2.8 per 1000 people. This is in a job where the median income has decreased by 13 percentage points since 2010. Other industries are experiencing an extreme gender gap. Most notably, education at the primary level is dominated by women, with over 80% of teachers reported as female. On the other side of the fence, nearly 90% of construction jobs in Canada are held by men, with similar figures across the board in other skilled trades. Such gender gaps can be very damaging to the professions themselves: in the case of education, the vast majority of boys will pass through primary school without a positive male role model in the classroom. In less fortunate areas, this lack of guidance could translate into increased crime and dropout rates, issues that have occurred in the past. The profession itself is also a victim of decreased wages, which can be attributed to the sad truth that careers dominated by women are devalued by society.
Perhaps one of the most pressing issues in today’s job market however, is the complete lack of interest from students in the skilled trades. According to a 2012 study conducted by EMSI, 53% of skilled trade workers in the US were 45 years or older, with 18.6% between the ages of 55 and 64. The term “aging workforce”, in this sense, would be an understatement. Soon, the lack of young blood in this profession will lead to a dramatic increase in demand for these essential, albeit unpopular services.
Clearly, the opportunities for employment abound. Yet, to be able to exploit these opportunities, we will have to explore outside of the traditional set of prestigious work fields promoted to us. It remains a fact that certain professions are more popular and enjoy greater prestige than others. Often, such professions are viewed as having greater income brackets, and although this may be true, it creates misconceptions about other, more “blue-collar” fields that can pay almost as handsomely when factoring in overtime and benefits. Additionally, this phenomenon is not limited to blue collar work; popular perceptions of careers in the arts as being economically unsound have proven to be false, with arts graduates reporting greater job satisfaction and sense of fulfillment. Despite receiving lower incomes than their peers, art graduates are more enabled and entrepreneurial: according to data from the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project, (SNAAP), 6 in 10 were self-employed and 14% had founded their own company.
Our nation relies on such careers. Perhaps it is not as noticeable, but blue-collar workers and artists remain an integral part of Canada. A functioning country cannot possibly be expected to go without such jobs, yet the standard four-year university plan is what is increasingly marketed to young students. Careers in STEM fields are heavily promoted, causing uninterested students to be funneled into engineering, biomedical, and computer science programs with dropout rates as high as 11%. One needs only look as far as Marianopolis to notice that, of those registered in Pure and Applied and Health Science, a significant number are attending not for any love of the sciences, but for lack of other choices, pressure from their families and a need to “keep all doors open”. All of this is happening in an increasingly globalizing world where flexible markets and rapid change have put into question the value of a university education.
Of course, none of this is to say that a university education is faulty and completely unnecessary, nor is pursuing a career in STEM any less noble than establishing one in the arts. Indeed, it would be a strange hypocrisy to denounce university education while attending a pre-university program.
However, as a society, we require all professions and people of all different backgrounds. The sentiment remains: if we are to promote a balanced society, we must promote other fields of work and look past our own personal biases and prejudices.
It is these very stereotypes that prevent students from achieving their full potential, and from advancing in careers that would be nothing but fulfilling to them. To be raised in a nation that prizes social mobility and the mantra of “you can be anything” is also to be raised in a society where the “anything” is in fact “this list of things”.
The truth is that students feel pressured to live up to societal expectations, all of which are heavily promoted through parents, peers, teachers and the education system altogether.
What’s in a good job? What is the value of economic security, and what does it truly entail? What is worth giving up for a higher social standing?
Combined, such pressures and prejudices can push the undecided to pursue fields in which they have no interest, from which they will undoubtedly derive no sense of fulfillment.
What irony then, that we tell our youth to pursue their dreams.
Written by MWR writer Yisen Wang, edited by the MWR team