There is a disconnect in the conversation we have with young people.
There’s nothing like hearing a story about a company and thinking “I wish I’d thought of doing that” for keeping the brand and the entrepreneur behind it stuck in your mind.
That’s how I felt at the 2012 Women’s Executive Network event when I first heard about TalentEgg.ca and its founder Lauren Friese (she was being recognized as one of the Top 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada).
In 2011 Friese had been named one of the FuEL Awards’ Top 20 Under 30. The reason was that TalentEgg.ca was being described as Canada’s most popular job and online career resource for students and recent graduates.
In addition to helping graduates “hatch” their careers, TalentEgg also helps Canadian employers attract and optimize their Gen Y talent. The Globe and Mail described it in June 2014 as “rolling a corporate recruiting office and student career fair into one website.”
Lauren founded the company in 2008 after she struggled to navigate the post-university job search and noticed the gap in available resources to help students transition from school to career. Earlier this year I heard her speaking at a Canadian Council of Chief Executives forum on jobs and skills for the 21st century — and I knew I wanted to have a conversation with her about the new world of work.
Seth: Thanks for speaking with me. Your business is at the forefront of addressing what graduates are facing in terms of challenges and opportunities in the labour market. I’d love to know what you are seeing in terms of the key challenge, and opportunities. How has it (or has it?) changed since you were in their shoes?
Friese: My major thesis on this is that the essential challenges around this transition are not new. Graduates have always had difficulty, but it’s just that no one was talking about it in quite the same way as they are now.
That said, the real issue that needs to be addressed is underemployment and the difficulty new graduates and youth are having in securing roles that result in the type of meaningful career-building work they are hoping for. I would say that a core contributor to this problem is the disconnect in the conversation we have with young people. We make it seem as if an interesting and engaging career is part of a natural transition from a college or university education — and we know that’s just not the case.
Seth: Let’s talk policy on this — what should we be doing to better support graduates, both in the transition to that first role or contract, and then into a labour market that increasingly offers fewer jobs with long-term security?
Friese: Well, the ecosystem of post-secondary education institutions, from colleges to universities, is in need of a rethink in terms of their roles. Is the university the best forum or actor to teach job and career preparation, or should universities focus more on being academic environments and leave career preparation to more nimble and attuned actors in the landscape?
In terms of specific government policy, I’d say we need to consider how flexible unemployment security could help a greater number of Canadians navigate these increasingly precarious career paths. Flexible security would mean adapting the EI system so it supports people going from job to job, very often in much shorter time spans than we’ve seen in the past.
Seth: When I moved to the United Kingdom I was struck by how many freelance and consulting opportunities were available and how sophisticated the career conversation seemed in comparison with the options I felt I had in Toronto. It sounds like you had a similar realization when you were at the London School of Economics. What’s going on? Why are we lagging on this?
Friese: I agree that the UK is way ahead in terms of recruitment and placement. For instance, UK employers seem to be continually tapping into the pools of new graduates, and graduates have more resources and tools to help them.
Also consider that in London eight out of ten jobs are filled via a third party, but in Canada only two out of ten are. Why is that? I think it’s in part due to the number of head offices in the UK compared with in Canada. As well, culturally, UK employers seem to have a longer tradition of working with contractors and so are just more open to hiring based on transferable skills.
Seth: I just heard that many UK companies internally decide to have 30 percent freelance or contract staff. This prevents groupthink by cycling new talent in.
Friese: While this attitude among employers may offer benefits to employers, I think it’s important to note that it isn’t necessarily beneficial to workers today — there’s lots of evidence that shows that this type of work, precarious work, is dangerous. That being said, I think that is a big part of the reason that we haven’t built up institutions and policies and a system to support this type of work.
Seth: Last question — what’s the best piece of career advice anyone’s ever given you?
Friese: I went to Queen’s University, and the popular saying there about students was that we worked hard and played hard — in equal measure. It wasn’t necessarily career advice, but I think I’ve very much modelled my career on the balance that that saying implies.
Seth: I like that take on the usual work-life balance talk we hear — I look forward to following what comes next for you and TalentEgg.ca.