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youth employment

Whose responsibility is it to fill our skills gap? Employers? Schools? Governments? The current discussion over the skills gap points fingers at all these groups.

My advice to fellow peers? Bridge your own skills gap. It's time for recent graduates to own up to the reality that a degree alone is not enough, but when paired with the right attitude and skills, they can set themselves up for success.

For better or worse, the future we were promised is not the reality we're job-hunting in. Grads are being blamed for not selecting an educational path that meets labour market trends. My generation of millennials has more ambition and is more aware of the world than any other generation. The world has provided us with all the tools needed to act on those ambitions in more ways than we can imagine.

Telling people, in particular students, what we should or should not be doing is in essence removing the agency that we as individuals have over our future. Pointing the finger at students for their choice in education is in many ways victimizing the students and grads – turning them into angry, cynical and depressed individuals. Instead of seeing the world as their oyster, they are disempowered from the moment they graduate.

Let's instead recognize their ambition and potential regardless of educational background. Reality check: Companies don't actually want or need cookie cutter employees. They want people who are competent, adaptable, interested and passionate.

For nearly three years, I have been running SoJo – an organization that educates social entrepreneurs through online technology. Some of our team members illustrate how graduates can take control of their careers.:

– A graduate of urban planning who was unemployed and in transition between jobs, but now manages our online content strategy, editorial curation and data analysis.

– A science graduate who was underemployed with few applied skills, now oversees all web development and project management.

– A senior policy advisor to several government ministries and political science graduate, employed but looking to broaden her exposure, now leads all business development, outreach efforts and organizational management.

Curiosity and shared values led them to join SoJo as volunteers last year. They taught themselves what was required, and in a very short amount of time created their own paid jobs. They don't fit into any mould, which is reflective of the changing workforce and needs of employers – particularly small and medium employers – who are looking for thinkers, creative problem solvers and go-getters who know how to get stuff done. Fact: Small and medium enterprises hire 89.8 per cent of all Canadians in the private sector.

There are many ways in which students and recent grads can acquire the skills and tools to be more relevant in today's workforce:

On campuses across the country, there are over 10,000 student groups and extra-curricular activities – but only about a third of students get involved outside the classroom. My first experience in sales, marketing, HR and leadership came from on campus activities.

Off campus, there is no shortage of opportunities available to students to gain practical, hands-on skills and exposure through internships and work-study programs.

Our generation has all of the ingredients we need to be successful, but above all else, the right attitude to see beyond a linear career path and the courage to take our careers into our own hands is a must.

Kanika Gupta is the Founder and Chief Catalyst at SoJo (, a social enterprise technology start-up incubated in Ryerson's Digital Media Zone.