By Donnalee Bell

What career development professionals can do to prepare young jobseekers for a labour market defined by precarious employment

When I was doing my undergraduate degree in the 1990s, I had a History of Labour professor that had an apocalyptic fear of ATMs. Instead of being innocuous places to get cash quick, he believed that ATMs would eliminate full-time, decent teller positions globally. As a result, he implored us not to use them. I’m still a bit wary of ATMs today.

Almost 25 years later, it seems his prediction didn’t quite pan out. There may be fewer teller positions overall but, like so many technological advances created to automate work throughout history, ATMs actually created more jobs than they replaced.

So, what does this story have to do with the careers of the next generations of job-seekers? Perhaps, quite a bit. According to Brynjolfsson and McAfee’s Second Machine Age (2014), my professor wasn’t exactly wrong, just ahead of his time. Since 2000 there has been what they call the “great decoupling”, meaning that developments in technology are no longer resulting in aggregate job creation, but rather been responsible for sluggish employment growth. Combine this with shifts in business practices (i.e. downsizing, outsourcing) and the rise of the gig economy and Generation(s) Next finds themselves transitioning to work in a world that lacks dependable employment and that, for many, does not pay a living wage (Zizys, 2014).

Precarious work, the “new normal”?

In Canada, the dominant result of these trends has been a growing rate of underemployment, with more young adults either overqualified for their job or unable to find enough work hours to comprise full-time employment. The latest statistics show that 40% of university graduates are underemployed, often due to precarious work arrangements (PBO, 2015). Foster (2012) found that the number of Canadian 15- to 29-year-olds working in non-permanent jobs (i.e., jobs that are temporary, contract, part-time, low paid and low skilled) has nearly doubled from 6.9% in 1997 to 11.6% in 2011. According to the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound), a stage of precarious work has become the “new normal” for young adults transitioning from school to work (2014).

All of this adds up to economic and psychological challenges for m. Research shows that the hallmarks of a full transition to adulthood are being delayed. In a 2014 survey of Canadian millennials, 43% of 30- to 33-year-olds remained reliant on their parents for financial support and 29% of those aged 25 to 29 still lived with their parents (Carrick, 2014). Youth are also reporting psychological impacts. For youth aged 18 to 24, nearly 90% reported feeling uncomfortable levels of stress; 86% in this age group attributed the stress to underemployment (Sun Life, 2012).

This “brave new” labour market calls for individuals to market themselves differently, manage personal finances to ride out fluctuations in pay, adapt constantly and create work where it may not already exist.  This is a tall order for anyone especially for new entrants who may not have the networks, skills portfolio, experience or the finances to mitigate ebbs and flows in employment. So, what can career development professionals do to prepare Generation(s) Next for this labour market?

  • Be hip – Not in that “I’m so cool” way, but by keeping current on emergent trends in the labour market.  Have you heard of a Certified YouTube Audience Growth Expert? A Vertical Farmer? A Nano-Medic?  Neither had I until researching this article. While it is impossible to stay ahead of the curve on all emerging occupations, “thinking-sector” can help you to know what’s trending. And, be open to your clients knowing more than you. My son (Gen Z) and his millennial music teacher recently enlightened me on careers in video game music composition.
  • Prepare them for gigs – In Good Gigs: A Fairer Future for the UK’s Gig Economy, the RSA Action and Research Centre (2017) found that despite the concerns about workers’ rights in the gig economy, many young people are attracted to the idea of gigging. To support clients here, we need to know the risks to workers’ rights, but also be savvy about using digital self-marketing and entrepreneurial approaches to work development. Jobseekers are now coding interactive resumes to stand out from the crowd (e.g.! We need to know about the tools used for “gigging” to help our clients profile themselves in this rapidly changing environment.
  • Advocate – There is a growing concern about the erosion of decent work worldwide. Advocacy for decent work arrangements (i.e. work that is productive, safe, secure and provides fair income with social protections for workers and their families) could become a core piece of our work. Workforce development and partnership building are a part of this. We’ll likely be out of our offices more and develop working alliances not just with our clients, but with employers, community groups, industry associations, etc.
  • Encourage skill collecting and self-directed learning – Skills are the currency of this labour market.  Workers will continuously need to upgrade skills or risk losing out on opportunities. The Foundation for Young Australians’ report The New Work Smarts: Thriving in the New Work Order (2017) predicts that by 2030 young people will need to spend more work hours learning than ever before because of the need to upgrade skills and that those who know how to learn will be at a competitive advantage. Career professionals will need to be learning coaches, supporting clients to find opportunities for learning and demonstrating their skills.
  • Inspire and instill hope – Finally, this labour market can equate to unmet expectations and a loss of hope for many young adults. Although the challenges are real, the news is not all bad. Research shows that graduates (especially post-secondary graduates) are generally doing well financially five to eight years after graduation (Finnie et al., 2016) and those with post-secondary credentials are accessing high-skilled work (Frenette and Frank, 2016). It’s important that we help our clients to balance the challenges they face with the opportunities inherent in today’s labour market. We need to help Generation(s) Next to see themselves as able and resilient and to nurture real hope as they move in the direction of their preferred future.

… and to remember the lessons of the ATM: there can be opportunity in the midst of change and uncertainty!


Donnalee Bell is the Managing Director of the Canadian Career Development Foundation and has been researching about and supporting the careers of young adults for over 20 years.


Balaram, B. Warden, J. and Wallace-Stephens, F. (2017). Good gigs: A Fairer Future for the UK’s Gig Economy. RSA: Action and Research Centre.

Byrnjolfsson, E. and McAfee, A. (2014). The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Carrick, R. “Gen Y’s lack of financial independence is striking.” The Globe and Mail. May 26, 2014.

Eurofound (2014). Mapping youth transitions in Europe. Publications Office of the European Union.

Finnie, R., Afshar, K., Bozkurt, E., Miyairi, M., Pavlic, D. (2016). Barista or Better: New Evidence on the Earnings of Post-Secondary Education graduate: A Tax Linkage Approach.  “Executive Summary.”  Education Policy Research Initiative and the University of Ottawa.

The Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) (2017). The New Work Smarts: Thriving in the New Work Order. FYA.

Foster, K. (2012) Youth Employment and Un(der) Employment in Canada: More Than a Temporary Problem? Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Frenette, M. and Frank, K. (2017). Do Postsecondary Graduates Land High-skilled Jobs? Statistics Canada.

Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer (2015), Labour Market Assessment.

Sun Life Financial. 2012 Canadian Health Index Report. Sun Life Financial, 2012.

Zizys, T. (2014) Better Work: The path to good jobs is through employers. Metcalf Foundation.