Into the fire

Journalism students at University of King's College. Photo: Emily Bent

The class of 2020 graduates into a world of few jobs and fierce competition


his spring the graduating class of 2020 will not be throwing their caps into the air. They won’t be donning gowns or saying tearful goodbyes to their classmates. That’s all on hold. Yet what has not been postponed, is the need to get a job, start our careers, and pay our student debts. Or at least try.

Like many people I know, I’ve spent over 15 years in school, living life safely inside the boundaries of education. This spring I graduated from the University of King’s College journalism program and now those walls are gone. I’m excited to see where life takes me; yet the wide-open landscape of possibility is daunting. Graduating always comes with uncertainty but this time, the whole world is feeling it.

Other graduates have faced tough economic situations, but nothing like this. Lars Osberg says a recession is a mild word for what we’re experiencing.  “The suddenness and the severity of the decline is just absolutely unprecedented,” says the Dalhousie University economics professor, adding Canada has already seen a significantly bigger decline in GDP than 2008.

In 2008 the recession came gradually. It had a huge impact on the job market but mostly concentrated in the financial sector. Meanwhile COVID-19 has impacted nearly every sector and has taken only weeks to bring the world to a halt. There will be no going back to the way things were before Covid-19, at least not entirely, and that includes the job market. 

“Don’t interpret your difficulty of finding a job or climbing the corporate ladder as such some evidence of your deficiency,” says Osberg. “[It’s] the society in which you live that created this environment that you have to try and function in.” 

Osberg says the Canadian government has been able to finance an emergency benefit and all sorts of different programs that in a way mimic basic income. Basic income is the idea that the government would provide everyone with enough money to cover their basic necessities, regardless of employment. 

While you aren’t responsible for the state of the economy, Osberg says you can try and influence how your government reacts to the world economy and advocate for a better social safety net. This pandemic will end, but viruses will not stop mutating and other disasters, like those linked to climate change, could be on the horizon.

Carlos Calix just finished his final year of a master’s degree in ecommerce at Dalhousie. He was looking to get a job in his field after graduation. Now he is not sure if he will have to change his plans. “Some people told me to start considering a career change just to get myself out there,” says the Guatemalan international student. “But the problem is no one is really certain what the best route to go is.”

Calix is currently working part time as a data analyst with the Nova Scotia Health Authority. He feels lucky to have the job because he can gain hours toward his permanent residence application. But trying to enter the job market, with so many people competing for jobs, is dispiriting. “There are going to be people who have five plus years’ experience and… that is your competition and not just fresh graduates,” he says. “That is kind of intimidating.”

For now Calix will continue to work  the job he has. Hoping to get a better job in a shaky market—just like people in 2008. With one difference. 

“At least back then you could go get a beer or something.”

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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