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'Anxious about the future': Some job seekers in the Greater Toronto Area struggling to find work amid high unemployment rate

Woman sitting in front of MacBook holding her head (Energepic.com via Pexels) Woman sitting in front of MacBook holding her head (Energepic.com via Pexels)
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When Joy Ojehanon left Nigeria seven years ago, she said she had “high hopes” for a new life in Canada, filled with opportunity and professional success.

But what’s followed her arrival in Toronto has been what she describes as a “heartbreaking” job search, despite her experience and education in the field of child and youth care.

“After some months in Canada, I started looking for a job, but my job applications were consistently rejected by employers, citing my lack of Canadian qualifications/work experience,” she told CTV News Toronto.

Last year, Ojehanon decided to go back to school and graduated with a degree in her field while working weekends at a shelter and group home. When she still couldn’t find a full-time job, she decided to pursue a master’s degree, which she’ll finish in August.

Still, Ojehanon explained, gainful employment has been almost impossible to come by and the search is now paired with nearly $50,000 in student debt.

“I feel so sad and frustrated, at the same time, anxious about the future,” she said.

Ojehanon is one of hundreds of thousands of people in Toronto who are either unemployed or underemployed. Earlier this month, Statistics Canada released updated employment data for the month of May, which showed that the city’s unemployment rate was at 7.9 per cent, or 317,200 people, a 0.2 per cent jump from April and a 1.9 per cent increase year-over-year.

This week, CTV News Toronto spoke with job seekers in the Toronto area who were looking for work amid the relatively high unemployment rate. Here are a few of those conversations, as well as advice from experts on how to improve your chances of landing a full-time job.

'There actually isn’t enough work'

Zeesy Powers graduated with a master’s degree in health science from one of the city’s top universities last year and said she spent seven months applying to jobs in her field.

“This was nonstop applying. I'm not kidding when I say it was 400 applications,” she told CTV News Toronto in an interview.

She admits that at some point the search for employment felt “demoralizing,” highlighted by an inability to land an entry-level job at a hotel cleaning rooms or working in a restaurant. However, she said she was “really lucky” to secure a position at a teaching hospital in the city.

“Unfortunately, it's part-time and it's also a contract. So I'm hoping it's going to be a foot in the door,” she said.

While Powers said she enjoys the work, it’s only two days a week and she’s not allowed to apply to other jobs in the organization within a six-month probationary period.

What’s more, she worries for other individuals pursuing higher education who may also be left without a full-time job when they graduate in the face of a loose job market.

“Degrees are not enough right now. I see a lot of people coming out of public health, for example, who are graduating with degrees in biostatistics, who cannot find a job. So even though this seems like you know, a very hard skills, math-based kind of job with a lot of programming, there actually isn't enough work,” she said.

'Even harder than I thought'

Krista Silegren moved to the GTA five years ago from Finland and holds a double master’s degree in education and economics and business administration.

The trilingual mother of four said she was excited to start her job search earlier this year, but that excitement quickly turned to disappointment as she struggled to even make the shortlist for job postings.

“I started to look for a job after Christmas, well aware of the challenges that I might face, having been home for so long and being new to the Canadian job market, but it has been even harder than I thought,” she said in an email.

“If they are, for example, looking for someone with a bachelor's degree in education or business and then I'm like, OK, I have masters for both, but I don't even get shortlisted. I have the work experience. Three to five years or whatever they're looking for. So yeah, I can’t say it’s not discouraging,” she said in a follow up interview.

To fill the gap, Silegren said she’s found a part-time job at a financial institution that she works at two days a week. But the office is a one-and-a-half hour drive one way and is not totally in line with her training and work experience.

“It's not exactly what I'm trained for. But I'm glad I have at least that.”

'I've been unemployed since mid-December'

It’s been a long six months of job searching for Leylan Collis, who said they’ve submitted anywhere from 50 to 75 applications since the beginning of the year.

“I'm in a particularly bad spot for trying to get work, as I have little experience or education outside of the retail sector where I can no longer work at all due to an injury that prevents me from being able to stand for long periods anymore,” they said in an email.

Collis said they regularly visit job posting sites, but often finds they aren’t physically able to perform the duties described or don’t have the listed qualifications. When Collis does find work they believe they would be qualified for, the application ends in rejection.

“Honestly, I'm feeling pretty hopeless at the moment,” they wrote in an email to CTV News Toronto. “I just got a rejection this morning for shelving books at a library that they're going with ‘more experienced candidates.’ Shelving books!”

Currently, Collis said they’re living off savings to make ends meet, but they expect those funds will run out in about four months.

“I could feasibly stretch it a bit if I can pick up cash on the side, but it's still less than a year's worth of rent and bills before my partner has to pay for everything-- and he can't afford that, either,” they said.

'I absolutely don't feel like an employed person': part-time worker

After raising children, Alicia Lee said she was eager to rejoin the workforce and was excited about getting a part-time job offer last year.

What she didn’t expect was how few hours she would actually be working.

“I'm averaging three hours a week,” she told CTV News Toronto in an interview. “I absolutely don't feel like an employed person.”

Lee said she had hoped to return to the workforce to start contributing to her pension, as she was unable to do so when she was raising kids. However, with only a few hours of work per week, she’s unsure she’ll reach her goal.

Moreover, she said her attempts to find additional employment have been fruitless, and most of the time she doesn’t even hear back from the employer after applying.

“No responses at all. I’m on Indeed, I'm applying directly to websites for the companies and not getting any responses,” she said.

According to StatCan, Lee, and a number of other individuals CTV News Toronto spoke with for this article, would be classified as “involuntary part-time” workers, meaning they are individuals who cannot find a full-time job or who work part-time due to poor business conditions.

Based on the data released earlier this month, the involuntary part-time rate in Canada for the month of May was as high as 18.2 per cent – up from 15.4 per cent year-over-year.

Some jobs receiving up to 300 applications: staffing expert

A number of people who CTV News Toronto spoke with said they felt as if they were up against hundreds of other applicants when they threw their hat in the ring for a potential job.

In an interview with the management consulting company Robert Half, national director Michael French said he’s seen business clients receive as many as 200 to 300 applications per job posting.

“Think of a job posting that is really well written, it's a job that that people do find attractive: [You’re thinking] ‘I want that job.’ Well, so does your neighbour, your brother, your family, they all want it too, so they're applying for it. But, unfortunately, only one person gets that job,” French explained.

French said while he believes the Canadian job market is still “exceptionally strong,” it is much different from two years ago when businesses were eager to load up on talent.

“There was lots of fear of: ‘If I don't get people or my people are leaving, what am I, [as a business] going to do?’ So companies were really fighting to attract people,” he said.

Since then, French said companies across Canada have become “exceptionally particular” about the types of qualifications they’re looking for, adding that generative AI has become one of the most in-demand skills in recent years.

“[Companies] have their lists of what they're looking for. It might be 10 items, and they will want to make sure they find each of those 10 items in their candidates,” he said. To that end, French continued, some businesses have struggled to find workers that meet their exact specifications and, as a result, he has seen some job postings yield zero applications due to the specificity of the role.

'Differentiation' a key factor in landing next job: career coach

In what seems like a sea of resumes, one career coach told CTV News Toronto that differentiation can be what sets a job seeker’s application apart from the rest of the candidates.

“I think the biggest challenge that people have is differentiation. And the way that I think we combat that is by knowing exactly what the job seeker has to offer and then to market that offering effectively,” Allison Lockett, of Canada Career Counselling, told CTV News Toronto.

“There's a temptation for job seekers to make their profile generic to fit in. And I think the more effective path is to differentiate.”

For example, Lockett said, every professional has a story to tell in their work experience and communicating that story on paper, in a way that is marketable and unique to their potential employer, could lead to success in the job hunt.

“There's so much volume in the system, because of the technology and how easy it is to turn out many, many applications that it just becomes a blur for recruiters and hiring managers and that’s where standing out can be helpful,” she said.

To that end, we asked Lockett about the so-called “easy apply” option on sites like LinkedIn and if those tools are helpful or a hindrance in the search for a job. She said: “It’s a challenge and it’s a balance.”

“It is a best practice to tailor your application for a particular opportunity. However, one of the most important things that I talk to clients about is making their job search manageable and sustainable,” she said.

But what does that look like?

Lockett suggests crafting a targeted cover letter and resume template, that speaks to your strengths and tells your professional story, which you can use when you see a job you think you’d be a good fit for. That way, you’ll spend less time painstakingly tweaking every application and more time applying to jobs.

“Because job searches are often longer than you want them to be -- not always but often -- one of the things that I work on with clients is creating a resume and a cover letter template that they can work with easily. So whatever tweaking or customizing we're doing is straightforward and efficient. That way, we're walking that balance between tailoring and also managing our own energy and time,” she said. 

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