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A job seeker looks at listings in an employment centre in London, Ont.

DEBORAH BAIC/The Globe and Mail

Trainee may be the rarest of first jobs available to the class of 2013.

That's because this year's university graduates are part of the outsourced generation – a crop of job seekers looking for work within organizations that contract out much of what they once did in-house.

Lost in this upheaval are many of the classic entry-level jobs that for earlier generations were stepping stones to something better.

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"It's a reflection of the changing nature of the labour market," explained Wayne Lewchuk, a labour economist at McMaster University in Hamilton. "Employers are unwilling to commit to anyone long-term, except to the core of their work forces. … More people are finding themselves on the fringes of organizations, where they don't see themselves as having a long-term future."

Coming out of recessions has always been particularly hard on young workers. But the current generation is facing the dual burden of a weak economy and major structural changes. They are heading into a maelstrom of labour surpluses, hyper-cautious employers, precarious jobs and a bulge of baby boomers hogging the best opportunities, according to CIBC senior economist Benjamin Tal, who wrote the recent report The Haves and Have-Nots of Canada's Labour Market. "We have a generation graduating now that is extremely disadvantaged," Mr. Tal said.

Mr. Tal worries that it may be six years before prospects brighten significantly for today's under-30s, and 15 years before labour shortages will draw many into the work force.

"People are creating their own jobs or they are compromising in the hope it will lead to something," he explained. "But during this period, they are losing time and they are more detached from the market."

His advice for the class of 2013: "Stay in school."

The Great Recession is over, but it continues to affect young people, even those with postsecondary degrees. While the overall Canadian labour market has rebounded, conditions for young people remain poor, with the jobless rate for those aged 15 to 24 stuck at about twice the national average (14.5 per cent in April, compared to 7.2 per cent for the whole population).

And while the rate has come down a bit – averaging 14.3 per cent in 2012 versus 15.2 per cent in 2009 – that is only because fewer young people are in the work force now than before the recession.

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The landscape is not likely to brighten any time soon.

"The labour market has recovered, but very few of those gains went to 15- to 24-year-olds," explained Julie Ades, an economist and forecaster at the Conference Board of Canada.

On the surface, at least, young workers have suffered less from the Great Recession than those of the early 1980s and 1990s, when the youth jobless rate reached 19.2 per cent and 17.2 per cent respectively.

This time, however, the toll could be more damaging and enduring.

The labour market is fraught with unusual "precariousness and insecurity," McMaster's Prof. Lewchuk said.

Large employers such as IBM no longer scoop up virtually entire graduating classes, as they did in the 1970s and 1980s. Nor do governments.

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Graduates are likely to spend more time looking for permanent work and a career, according to Prof. Lewchuk. Some will have years of self-employment, part-time work and temporary contracts.

"Fewer people are going to get into their dream job," Prof. Lewchuk acknowledged. "There are going to be more people in positions they didn't want, or expect to be in."

The news is not all bad. Mr. Tal says 25 professions show signs of a skills shortage, many of which require postsecondary education. They include engineers, social workers, dentists, nurses and doctors and managers in health, education and construction.

The problem, he said, is that too many graduates are not job-ready, and many employers say they are not in the business of training them.

"If you graduate from something that is not relevant in today's market, you will be feeling the consequences, financially and otherwise, for quite a while," Mr. Tal said.

Not all experts are convinced this generation is, in fact, lost.

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Far too little is known about recent graduates and their transition to the working world, according to Ross Finnie, a University of Ottawa labour economist. He says better data that track their incomes by their fields of study would help dispel the suggestion that a university degree has lost its value. "Let's not exaggerate the problem," Prof. Finnie said.

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