After saving for years, taking out student loans, and hundreds of hours spent in lectures hunched over term papers, many students are finally finishing their university or college programs to only enter a bleak workplace that has been decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
New grads, and those who have lost their jobs amid the pandemic, are facing a tough labor market in the wake of ongoing lockdown measures and company cutbacks.
But while the prospects may look grim, some of Canada’s best minds in business say job hunters should be looking to take advantage of the situation to set themselves apart from the crowd.
BNN Bloomberg spoke with some of Canada’s top chief executives for their advice to those on the job hunt during challenging economic times.
Jim Pattison, chairman, and CEO, The Jim Pattison Group
“I would go into something that I like – I wouldn’t go into something that is necessarily the most money at the minute. I would go into something that I really enjoyed and that I could grow in.
I would continue to get the best education I could, as long as I could afford to go, that’s what I would do. Once you get your education, you know, it’s an easy load to carry so the more education that you get, the stronger that I would encourage young people to stay with it as long as they could. And the ones that decided that they can’t for whatever reason or don’t wish to, then I would recommend that they go into a business that they really will enjoy being in.”
Don Walker, CEO, Magna International Inc.
“What you did during the pandemic lockdown is a question interviewers may ask graduates looking for their first job.  You can look at situations like this as a problem or an opportunity.  Employers want motivated, high-energy, positive problem-solvers. 
Hopefully, you took the time to decide what is important to you, decide how to get there, develop a plan, and stay focused.  We all have limited time.  Having a plan for your life and moving forward is critical.  But you also must be flexible and be ready to pivot by taking the skills you’ve learned and applied them in a new way.”
Bruce Flatt, CEO, Brookfield Asset Management Inc.
“Many great businesses and careers are launched or reimagined in times of dislocation. Those starting out in their careers today have an incredible opportunity to initiate the next wave of innovation and successful businesses as we come out of this.
We always tell young people not to underestimate the importance of perseverance in periods of adversity, and of focusing on both the opportunities that change brings, and on the positive impact they can have on the world.”
Heather Reisman, CEO, Indigo Books & Music Inc.
“Try to find an opportunity in a company whose mission you admire – and whose leadership team you admire.  Be willing to take any job to start if it is at a company you really want to work for and then bring your very best self to work every day.  People with talent and a real passion to contribute always get recognized and grow quickly in quality organizations. 
In uncovering job opportunities – use whatever ‘network’ you have – profs, family, friends, a person you know at your favorite brand.  Don’t be shy – people are generally very happy to help!”
Mark Little, president, and CEO, Suncor Energy Inc.
“In your career, you’re going to be faced with things that go really well and things that don’t. Being resilient while handling failures will set you apart from others. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and move on by focusing on developing the skills you lack. COVID has just emphasized how important this is!
Curiosity and creativity are also key. Everything you work on is a piece of a much bigger puzzle. Take the initiative to expand your understanding of how everything connects. People who are able to see four or five steps ahead are able to come up with super innovative solutions.”
Nancy Southern, chair and CEO, ATCO Ltd.
“Your graduation represents the key to your future. Your future success, however, will continue to be based on the same characteristics and qualities that allowed you to graduate during this difficult time: hard work and perseverance.
I encourage each of you to dream big, stay curious and courageous, never give up and strive for the highest standards in all that you do. I wish you the best of success, good health and much happiness.”
JJ Ruest, president and CEO, Canadian National Railway Co.
“I would encourage anyone looking for work to look at where economic trends are heading, and then try to ride the trend. For instance, the North American economy is slowly moving away from manufacturing and progressively heading to a service-based economy, which leads to career opportunities in industries that enable that shift. International trade, e-commerce, and advanced carbon-efficient supply chains are more critical than ever, offering new and uncharted career experiences for those who seek them.
I also always encourage people to bet on the economic enabling infrastructures that will always be needed, but to do so through the lens of: ‘How can technology enhance them?’ In a time when tech ‘disruptors’ are changing the face of business at an accelerated pace, what are the businesses that are leveraging those innovations to improve the way they are doing business? Knowing how to improve your operations, even if they are centuries young, is the key to prospering and a smart way to grow.”
Dave McKay, president, and CEO, Royal Bank of Canada
“As we’ve seen this year, change is needed in so many aspects of our society – on building a more inclusive society, on combatting climate change, on reimagining how we educate and train our workforce, and how we protect the health and well-being of our communities, education and on healthcare.
I’m incredibly confident the skills this year’s graduates across the country have gained at school will not remain on the sidelines, especially because the world moves much faster than it did when I joined RBC as a young co-op student many years ago.
My advice to every grad out there is if you see a problem, don’t wait for someone else to solve it. If you see change is needed in society, reimagine a better future, and then take the lead. Our world has never needed the curiosity and contributions of new post-secondary grads more.”