Grads optimistic about jobs despite freelance economy, study finds

Despite all of the talk about precarious job prospects for young people, a new survey has found a large number of those in or just finishing their post-secondary studies are optimistic about their careers and are even embracing the freelance economy.

Commissioned by Intel Canada, the study found 65 per cent of respondents were optimistic about their career prospects, despite the fact that most (68 per cent) feel that they’re facing a tougher labour market than their parents did when they were starting out. It also found about one in three aspire to own a business, with half agreeing that contract work is a great way to build a resume.

The study, administered between May 27 and June 13, asked 1,003 respondents between 18 and 29 years of age who were enrolled in or had recently graduated from a post-secondary program questions about the job market. It found 40 per cent of people surveyed saw a trend towards people in their fields working multiple part-time jobs rather than one full-time position.

Read: Do millennials really prefer perks to salary?

“This study reinforces what I’ve been hearing from students when I present to them on campus: that they’re actively taking on employment gigs and kick-starting their careers,” says Amber Mac, a TV and radio host and entrepreneur.

But David Camfield, a labour studies professor at the University of Manitoba, questions whether these survey results provide any useful insight into the job market. He stresses that “there’s a gap between people’s perceptions and the actual state of the job market.”

“It’s certainly true that there has been a decline in the number of open-ended contracts,” says Camfield. “But there’s also an active effort, I think, underway to lower worker’s expectations and to make everybody think that they have to be prepared to simply accept that kind of precarious work.”

Read: Employers looking for ways to attract millennials as they recruit for jobs

To Camfield, the survey contributes to what he sees as an exaggeration of the negative state of the job market that encourages a perception that may benefit employers seeking to cut wages and benefits and give people “bad jobs.”

He adds that the Intel Canada survey is “extremely subjective” and says it would be better to see reports that look at objective measurements of job quality. They include issues such as rates of pay and the prospects for increased salaries, access to benefits like pension plans and supplementary health-care coverage and whether or not the work is contract or full-time, says Camfield.

“I think we should have an accurate understanding of what’s happening and the things that employers are doing to lower the quality of work but I don’t think we should be propagating attitudes that encourage young workers to lower their expectations,” says Camfield.

“We should be giving people an analysis of what the facts are, of what the real situation is, but also [encourage] people to push back and not simply accept that their future means having a bad job, not having a pension and not having benefits and not having the right to expect job security.”

Read: Approaching the workplace generation gap

Speaking of the freelance economy, job search site Flexjobs has released a list of some of the companies that have been particularly active in hiring people on a contract basis this year. Among the more recognized names on the list is the Royal Bank of Canada.