Although I, like many, fundamentally disagree with Stephen Poloz in terms of how to approach unpaid work in an ever-fluctuating job market, I do also see merit in the argument that has landed the Governor of the Bank of Canada in so much hot water.
At a time where many are hard-pressed to find a job that is anywhere remotely close to what they study or are passionate about, unpaid job opportunities have become more and more common; employers are aware of the fact that many in search of a job would often rather work for free than not work at all in hopes of bettering their chances of finding future work. "Padding the CV," otherwise known as building one's resume, is a phrase we often toss around to describe how hands-on, real-life experience in any field can amount to infinite amounts of learning and experience. Is it better than doing nothing in the parents' basement, but that's not the right way to frame the discussion.
Poloz raised two points. On the one hand, promoting the unethical practice of taking advantage of the situation many young adults are thrust into by having unpaid positions is a huge injustice. Employers know that this is an option, that for many, is better than nothing. On the other hand, Poloz also points to the importance of experiential learning and the benefits that can be found in work that is not necessarily immediately benefitting one's future. This is something our generation is too often forgetting.
With the uncertainty of the job market, everything is being quantified in order to create the best chance of snagging a job in the near future. While in the past many would ask "Does this truly interest me?", nowadays the question is more often "Would this look good on my resume? Will it help me get a job?" It sucks. And young adults are not the only ones guilty of this never-ending quantification of originally interest-based endeavours. Parents are also key actors in the devaluation of rich and important community-based work. If it won't contribute to one's future, it isn't worth one's time.
Not only is this incredibly disenchanting and worrying, but it also speaks to the larger issue of the corporatisation of the education system. Must the end goal always be higher-paying jobs and being the ideal candidate, or are we going to allow ourselves to explore more diverse routes to employment, ones that may truly interest us or benefit society?
A parallel idea exists within various disciplines, and you've definitely heard it before. "Philosophy? Religious studies? What are you going to do with that?" These are all the wrong questions that we continue to ask ourselves. Is it important to know early on that there is a direct link between what one studies or participates in to their future employment or wealth, or can we allow ourselves the chance to pursue our true passion or gain real-world experience that is stimulating and enriching?
There's no doubt that job security is important, but how far will we go to guarantee it?
Kareem Ibrahim is a member of the Students' Society at McGill University and a student in International Development.