Roslyn KuninCareer prospects become so discouraging for many educated young people that the British weekly magazine The Economist writes about young people who have given up looking for work and live in their parents’ basement playing video games.

Similarly, Canadian newspapers are publishing articles telling parents how to kick their grown children out of the house.

We’re not talking about high school dropouts. Most of the game-playing cellar dwellers have university degrees, often acquired at great expense, leaving a pile of debt.

Even so, these graduates have not been able to find a job.

One reason might be that they’ve chosen a field in which the supply of entry-level workers far exceeds the demand. Psychology, law and elementary school teaching are examples of such fields.

Young people and their parents should consider the demand for graduates before they invest in a degree.

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However, even a degree in a field that needs talent is no guarantee of a job. Formal education and the skills it imparts are very necessary for many positions; but, by themselves, they aren’t sufficient. The additional factors that employers look for can’t be acquired at a college or university. They can only be acquired by on-the-job experience.

It’s a catch-22 circumstance: I can’t get a job without experience but how can I get experience without a job?

Easy, because work experience can come from any job, not just one at your desired level or in your desired field. And there are many jobs out there, although more likely for baristas than barristers.

Taking an entry-level job teaches you many things you don’t learn in school: how to get to work on time and hang in until the end of your shift; how to get along with fellow employees and less-than-perfect bosses; how to deal with deadlines and customers; and how not to be surprised when the business end of your paycheque shows a much smaller number than your gross pay.

When I first hired an economist, all the candidates had a master’s degree in economics, so they all could do the technical aspects of the work. The economist who got the job stood out because he financed his education by spending his summers working in a restaurant kitchen, managing that kitchen in his graduating year.

This meant he could literally and figuratively take the heat. Not only could he do economics, he could also deal with colleagues, handle multiple demands, meet deadlines and work under pressure.

There’s one factor that predicts who will not have a successful career and it has nothing to do with education or family. It’s work experience or the lack of it. Anyone who hasn’t held paid employment by the time they reach age 25 is very unlikely to ever succeed in the work world.

As we approach an election in British Columbia, ads are appearing on buses in Metro Vancouver implying that anyone who has to both work and study is hard done by, and that there should be more funds for students and the institutions they attend to avoid this.

I’m all in favour of more support for post-secondary education, especially in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, where talent shortages are acute. But education alone won’t cut it. It’s work experience of any kind in any field added to education that makes for a desirable, hireable employee.

Working and studying at the same time isn’t easy, but most jobs aren’t easy. That’s why workers have to be paid. (I earned my first degree taking evening courses while working full time in the day. I also had two babies. It was difficult. In fact, it has made the rest of my life seem easy by comparison, but it was doable.)

With both work experience and education, we can provide the talent that industries need and the jobs that people need – and playing video games can become a hobby for our spare time.

Troy Media columnist Roslyn Kunin is a consulting economist and speaker. 

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