Finding solutions for un(der)employment through social entrepreneurship

Graduating with solid co-op experience, it never occurred to me that finding a job would take time. However, despite competitive experience and job search skills, my classmates and I were primarily un(der)employed.  “It’s just the economy” doesn’t help when you’re several months into sending out hundreds of resumes and feel that you have nothing to show for it.  I watched as energetic friends lost momentum, and lamented the waste to the economy as they became disillusioned and depressed.

There had to be a solution – but what?  Building on my undergrad volunteer experiences at Sustainable Waterloo Region, I thought it would be useful to create a positive environment with flexible volunteer positions that directly served the career goals of the un(der)employed.  The first people I tried this idea on were my roommates and classmates from uWaterloo. To this day, many remain as volunteers at the non-profit we formed, Career Skills Incubator (CSCI).

While most of the “core” volunteers began to get jobs, CSCI started to place in small competitions which gave us funding and workspace at the Centre for Social Innovation in Toronto. We continue the volunteer program, but what fascinates me is how different we are than originally imagined.

victoria with the volunteersOur biggest program today is a mentorship program. But it’s not a typical mentorship program.  We encourage even recent graduates to mentor others, under the philosophy that everyone has something to contribute.  We match based on skills and not necessarily industry – engineers with art students, landscape architects with accountants. Mentors aren’t there to blab about their careers, they are there to encourage mentees to set goals, build and maintain momentum, be supportive, and put things into perspective.  As a “neutral third party,” they can be helpful when someone feels their friends and families don’t understand their situation.

But enough about CSCI, what is the take-away for readers of this article?
If you’re un(der)employed, you need to stay active. Most jobs are through contacts and the dreaded “networking” is crucial.  If 80% of jobs are through connections, you need to spend about 80% of your time meeting people through events, volunteering, friends and family. As we are reminded each day at Career Skills Incubator, everyone has something valuable to contribute to making someone else’s life better. Why not start today?

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