As a soon-to-graduate pharmacy student at the University of Alberta, Brittyn Ozipko feels relatively optimistic about his career prospects. A recent pharmacy career fair on campus attracted 22 employers.
"Not all of them were hiring, but quite a few were. I know some students did end up getting jobs yesterday," Mr. Ozipko said the morning after the event.
He worries, though, about others in the class of 2016 who majored in different academic disciplines. The provincial labour market has gone from boom to bust since this cohort entered university. Economists say Alberta appears to have slipped into a mild recession.
And while the uncertainty for new graduates is most pronounced in Alberta right now – with regular headlines about sweeping layoffs and pay cuts in the energy sector because of the oil-price collapse – the national association that represents university and college career counsellors says the job market for new grads has never really recovered from the financial crisis of 2008. There are entry-level jobs out there, but far more applicants than openings, said Paul Smith, executive director of the Canadian Association of Career Educators and Employers.
Graduating students have to invest a lot more effort to attract the attention of employers and get a foot in the door in order to land that crucial first job, Mr. Smith said. This is complicated by the fact that employers are changing the way they hire, with many abandoning traditional methods such as career fairs. "They are, instead, focusing on what might be called remote recruitment, using social media to promote opportunities and draw traffic to the company's human resources site, which allows them to harvest applicant data," Mr. Smith said.
Career centres are scrambling to maintain relationships with employers through internships, co-operative programs, job shadowing and career fairs – because research shows that a personal connection is still the best way to land a job, he said. But career advisers are also counselling students on how to enhance their social media profiles through platforms such as LinkedIn.
Nathan Laurie, president of Jobpostings.ca, says his student-focused online job site currently has 5,000 postings from employers specifically looking for entry-level employees. New grads can focus their job search by concentrating on such niche sites that cater to their demographic, he said.
Employers do not expect students and new grads to have a lot of work experience, but they are drawn to applicants who have some real-world experience. So it's important for students and new grads "to find ways to leverage the short list of experience they do have on their résumés," says Megan Santos, who writes career advice on the Jobpostings site. Part-time work, summer jobs and volunteer work all count, she adds.
Mr. Smith said the Canadian Association of Career Educators and Employers also found, in a comprehensive survey of employers in 2013, that recruiters place high value on "work-integrated learning" such as internships and co-op placements.
While not all courses of study lend themselves to co-op placements, there are other ways to get students some invaluable workplace exposure and introduce them to career options they might not have considered, said Joan Schiebelbein, director of the University of Alberta's career centre.
"There's no doubt that it's a tough job market, particularly in Alberta," and students need all the help they can get in identifying the opportunities that are still out there, she said.
The career centre takes students on "career crawls," where they get to spend time in the workplaces of participating employers. During the university's reading weeks in November and February, students have the opportunity to go into workplaces to "job shadow." Local employers are also invited on campus to help students build their job-search skills through mock interviews and mentoring sessions. Students report that the connections made through these initiatives have often led to jobs, Ms. Schiebelbein said.
Last summer, Mr. Ozipko landed an internship at Save-On-Foods, a grocery chain with in-store pharmacies in British Columbia and Alberta. He was part of a team looking at how the company runs its clinical services, and provided advice on recruitment strategies – from a graduating pharmacy student's perspective – as the company expands into Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
Since September, Mr. Ozipko, 23, has been working part-time in the pharmacy of one of Save-On-Foods' Edmonton stores. He loves the work.
"I spend a good part of my shift in the aisles doing OTC [over-the-counter] drug consulting, I am injecting patients, I am going to nursing homes to do presentations," Mr. Ozipko said. Having scoped out other opportunities at the University of Alberta's pharmacy career fair earlier this month, his preference is to stay with Save-On-Foods, which is part of B.C.-based Overwaitea Food Group, after he graduates in the spring.
"It's definitely an option. I enjoy working with the pharmacists, I enjoy interacting with the patients. And they [Save-On-Foods] are continuing to grow, even with the economy."