The phrase “living in your parents’ basement” is now a statement that is true of many millennials and has nothing to do with one’s taste for certain shows in the science fiction genre. It’s no secret that the Canadian job market is not what it used to be. While we’re doing pretty well compared to other countries —the youth unemployment rate in Spain in 2016 was a staggering 46 per cent— the youth unemployment rate in Canada, according to Stats Canada, is about 13 per cent, with many young people, that is those between the ages of 15 and 24, holding only part-time positions. Things have started to get better in recent years, with government programs and funding put forward in an attempt to keep jobs in Canada. But with the job market steadily changing into something that is often a lot more do-it-yourself rather than the steady career path of generations past, many young people have no idea where to start.
That’s what Alex McKee was thinking of when he started Millennial Xchange, an online community intended to connect job seekers with helpful mentors. McKee, who spent most of his career in wealth management with a foray into creating business courses for local colleges, is not a millennial. At 77, he says he should probably be retired by now, but instead of playing golf all day McKee is putting his contacts to good use. He says he came up with the idea for Millennial Xchange when participating in a seniors recreation program organized through Brock University. While working out, he started talking to some of the students who were working there, gaining work hours toward their degrees. He asked them what they were going to do after graduation and the answer was overwhelmingly, “I don’t know.”
“A third of all millennials are growing up in their parents basement,” Mckee says. “Many of them will probably serve you your latte this morning…that was never their plan to be a barista or a waiter.” McKee says these young people are just trying to make ends meet any way they can and the days of going down to the student union building and meeting with recruiters from major corporations like his generation did are over.
Not everyone can be the next Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, or Elon Musk, says McKee. Billion dollar ideas are probably not in everyone’s pocket and working for free to gain experience, as Stephen Poloz, the governor of the Bank of Canada, suggested young people do in 2014. Poloz suggested that because Canada’s youth were probably living rent free in their parents’ basement, something that is certainly not true for everyone, they could find unpaid work and those who were able to do so would naturally fall into new jobs when they’re created.
Mckee doesn’t think we should wait. “Let’s figure out a way to overcome that,” he says. “If there are no jobs let’s create some.”
That’s just what he did. Millennial Xchange began as a way to connect those students working in the gym with people who might need their help getting fit but might not be interested in joining a gym program. It has since evolved into a program that connects the young and unemployed with potential mentors. The idea, Mckee says, is quid pro quo. You give something and you get something. The example McKee used is a journalism student. The world of journalism has changed to a predominantly freelance field. Young people trying to break into the industry might not know how to actually do that. Mckee’s service would help connect that young journalist with an older, more experienced mentor in the field. In exchange for career advice, experience, and maybe some contacts in the industry, the mentee would maybe help the mentor with research.
Brock’s more than 18,000 full time students all have access to the program but Mckee says it’s not free. McKee says it costs Brock University about $10,000 per year to be a member and while it’s free to set up a profile, it will cost individuals a one time fee of $150 to connect with potential mentors. The program is mainly focused on Brock’s BioLinc, where McKee says students might find subsidies to cover the Millennial Xchange fee.
Alex McKee is one of the founding directors of Millennial Xchange. Other founding members are Dr. Don Cyr , the Dean of the Goodman School of Business at Brock University and Terry Dooley , a CPA and Senior Partner of the MDP Tax and Accounting firm.
While programs like Millennial Xchange are not a solution to Canada’s unemployment problem, they are a useful step in the right direction. As they say, it’s not what you know, but who you know. Making connections may actually be the new job interview.