I have a fantastic idea. It’s a self-serving idea, to be sure, but I believe it to be fantastic nonetheless.
I haven’t looked for a job in nearly fifteen years. I haven’t had a job for more than ten of those. But kids age and spouses lose jobs. So like a fledgling, I awkwardly tumbled from my secure nest wholly unaware of the abyss above which it resided.
It’s no secret that Calgary’s petroleum industry is in a prolonged slump. Jobs are scarce and applicants, aplenty. The geosciences field in which I once plied is no different. It may even be worse. And there’s an eerie sense that, though years have passed since the major staff purges, the likelihood of more layoffs remains greater than a burst of job opportunities.
After months of barren futility, September greeted me with an unexpected flurry of 2020 student job postings from several of Canada’s most renowned oil companies. Some geology positions, even. I responded with muted hope and abundant envy.
Oh, did this take me back a quarter century to my university days where I earned an honours Bachelor of Science degree in the University of Waterloo’s renowned co-op program. Enrolling in that co-op option extended my university tenure to a fifth year to accommodate the six, four-month work terms that not only enabled me to gain valuable, applicable work experience but also pocketed me some much needed coin to pay for it all.
The university facilitated this matchmaking between students and businesses by providing employment counselling and facilities to conduct recruitment interviews for the thousands of job postings every semester. In return, I submitted a report/project after each work term proving I was, indeed, applying my budding skills in a meaningful environment rather than, you know, offering you fries with that.
It’s a great program but not without its drawbacks. Like in the real world, a moribund economy can disrupt the best laid plans.
In the spring of 1992, my first co-op job hunt hit a significant snag when far too few jobs were available for first year students. As desperation mounted, school expectations diminished and I ended up working in the product laboratory for Home Hardware’s paint manufacturing facility. It was a stretch for my hydrogeological (groundwater) studies but still “science” and thus good enough for the university.
By the time my final co-op terms rolled around in 1995, I was scooting off to the Calgary for eight months at Gulf Canada Resources. I took the job simply as a means of seeing the West. I had family there whom I rarely saw and eight months at an oil company seemed like a fun way to remedy that. Twenty-four years later, I’m sitting on my couch in a southeast suburb of Cowtown reminiscing as I peruse the oil and gas student job postings.
It all has a sense of déjà vu to it. Once again I am attempting to find work with the economy in tatters. Only this time the stakes are much higher. Instead of salvaging a first year work term, I’ve got a wife and kids to worry about. My wife lost her job as a geologist back in February, the kids are steadfast in refusing to move out, ungrateful middle-schoolers, and I no longer have the luxury of a hometown-connected paint factory to hit up for a pity job.
Which is why I applaud these companies for continuing to hire university students despite the state of the industry. These young men and women face a daunting future. Reality will cuff them plenty hard upon graduation, but for now these intern positions provide vital, authentic work experience. In this environment, every little bit will help when launching their careers.
I can relate. I share many commonalities with today’s university students. I’m young, keen, idealistic, energetic, and partake in casual sex with the same regularity and bliss that I devour high fructose corn syrup laden foodstuffs.
Okay, none of that is true. But we do tangentially share a common enemy in the longstanding quandary; how do you get experience without experience?
For post-secondary students, co-op and intern jobs are exactly how you do it. For me, a long time stay-at-home parent, and others like me, it’s more complicated.
I have experience. Good experience. As a petroleum geologist, ten years of it. Add in two years as a hydrogeologist, hey some skills are transferable, and I’ve got a respectable dozen years under my belt.
But it’s dated experience, and that’s the problem. I haven’t worked full time since 2008, having relinquished my career to be a stay-at-home parent for my newly minted children. I don’t know what I qualify for anymore. Twelve years of excellent experience followed by an eleven year hiatus makes me what? How much of the former is negated by the latter?
So, which jobs do I apply to? The ten year jobs? The three to five year jobs? The intern positions? And even if I do, does anybody care? It’s not as if there is a shortage of qualified candidates at each experience level. If I apply for ten year jobs, does recent experience not trump old experience? If I apply for three year jobs, does youth not trump whatever the hell is clicking in my left knee whenever I stand up?
I’m stuck in an impossible pursuit; at once too experienced and too inexperienced. What’s a desperate house husband to do?
This is where my fantastic, self-serving (but still fantastic) idea comes into play. What if corporations created Return Intern positions? Not for students, or new grads, or even maternity leave returnees but for long-term stay-at-home parents wishing to resume a former career.
For someone like me, the benefits are obvious. I beef up my resume with current, relevant experience and collect a modest paycheque. From a household perspective, this is far more amenable than paying to retrain or upgrade for a year or more, despite its lack of permanence.
For companies, the benefits aren’t much different than those gained by hiring students. I’d go so far as to suggest they might be better. Not only do you get a competent, short-term employee, presumably at a discount to their peers, but you get said employee at an entirely different stage in life than a student.
That mid-life, former stay-at-home parent has a wisdom, patience, and maturity that can only be gained with time. Time they’ve just spent nurturing, learning, adapting, and solving often entirely on the fly. Their motivations and expectations have evolved accordingly.
And all that old experience? It may be dated but it remains valuable. Modern vehicles are filled with cutting-edge electronics and safety equipment the likes of which my first car never had. But I guarantee you I can still drive it. And I’ll do so quicker and with less supervision, than someone who has never driven one before.
Sounds like a win-win to me and great PR. So what do you say corporate Calgary? Let’s make Return Interns a thing. I even know someone willing to be your guinea pig.