Month: April 2014

The Reluctant Gypsy

Beyond The Transit Pass
In order to look for work beyond Kitchener, I’m going to need something with far more kick than this Grand River Transit pass!

On November 9th, 2013, I made a decision, a VERY big one in fact, to leave my home Toronto and move to Kitchener. I capitalized the word “very” for reasons other than just dramatics. It was a very big decision based on a recipe consisting of one dash of hope mixed in with a list of ingredients composed of assumptions.

The hope was one of finding more work in Kitchener where my aggressive job search in Toronto failed to secure.

The assumptions are a little more complex in terms of number, so I’ll have to itemize:

  1. I assumed if I worked a series of temporary jobs in Kitchener, both my social network and the recent work history would expand, leading to a feedback loop of getting more jobs which in turn increase my social network that would land even more jobs. Think of a snowball rolling down a snow-laden hillside.
  2. I assumed the scant number of people that I did know would pass on my name to others who in turn would contact me, thus expanding the number of avenues to search for work.
  3. I assumed Kitchener’s reputation of being in the middle of a technological makeover in order to escape its manufacturing and rural roots would greatly enhance my chances of finding information technology jobs.
  4. I assumed my employment assistance centre contact would be at my back no matter what, a welcome change from the previous 4 who were not while I was in Toronto.

That was 5 months ago. So how did that work out for me?

Keeping with the recipe metaphor, if this was an attempt at cooking a turkey, it certainly deserved that name. My attempt to find work in Kitchener not only failed, it stunk. Disastrously.

For point 1., the best I could come up with was a flyer job, a de-collations job, and cleaning out a storage room, all while being on the on-call list of no less than 6 temporary agencies..

For point 2., a lot of people took my contact information, yet a scant few even bothered to help.

For point 3., the technological movement consists of mobile app and web design, skills for which I do not have. No problem, I thought. I’ll apply for Second Career funding to pay for post-secondary education in order to get those skill-sets. That failed for both personal living reasons and lack of qualification.

For point 4., I discovered my supportive contact at the employment assistance centre at Northern Lights quietly closed my file without telling me. Maybe she saw the writing on the wall sooner than I did?

So what am I going to do now? What’s going to happen to me?

On Saturday April 26th, 2014, I will leave Kitchener, to begin a search for work that will involve a lot of travelling between many cities. I’ve called up a few friends I know in both Toronto and Cambridge to arrange temporary lodging of varying durations so I can continue my job search.

My job search radius needs to change. I can’t look in just one city any more. It has to include many cities, an entire region in fact. The one thing that will not change is this blog. I’ll continue to post on a regular basis, letting you know where I am in the search so far.

The (bitterly) funny thing about all of this is that I wrote both a blog post and recorded a two part video [1][2] about my reluctance to becoming some sort of wandering gypsy travelling the landscape in search for work. It appears, despite my protests, that I have no choice but to do just that.

Thanks for reading (and wish me luck! I’m certainly going to need it!)

David

P.S. If anyone has any tips on how to live out of a suitcase during my travels, and also where I can get very affordable (if not free) places to stay over for a few days, let me know!

P.S.S. To the people of Kitchener, from Mayor Carl Zehr all the way down to the common folk like myself at Tim Horton’s who made me feel welcome, thank you for your kindness.

 

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Sorely Temp-ted

Converation With Maverick AgentBefore accepting any temporary assignment, I ask questions. I ask what qualifications are required for the assignment, how to get there by transit, and if I need to have special equipment for the work at hand. At first glance, this might make me appear finicky, but the questions asked are for good reasons.

For starters, if I do not have the qualifications to do the job, I won’t do the job. Why make a client unhappy if I show up and can’t do the job?

The transit question is important to ensure that I not only arrive at the assignment on time every day and with ease, it also ensures I can get home safely.

I also will not buy any equipment — such as a hard-hat,  tools such as hammers or screwdrivers, computer software, or protective clothing — that I end up using only one time. Makes sense: why buy something that not only cuts into my temporary wages, it sits there collecting dust because I won’t use it again? Why can’t the assignment supply the equipment required? When I worked in the information technology field, I didn’t buy a computer, local and Internet network access, and a programming IDE to do my job.

These questions ensure that nothing goes wrong that could affect the success of the temporary assignment. I’m the type of guy that makes sure his t’s are crossed and his i’s are dotted. Having said this, there’s nothing I can do about employees at a temporary employment agency who decide to operate in a footloose and free-wheeling manner. This blog post is a story about one such maverick at one such agency. For legal reasons, I’ve chosen — for now — to block out the name of the contact, the name of the agency, and the assignment location. All you need to know is that the assignment involved working in an area that was very dirty and required some physical effort.

One afternoon, I received a phone call from a contact at one temporary employment agency. She wanted me to go the next day (way to give me the advance notice, people) for a 4 day assignment that required some physical effort in a filthy environment. I asked about past work experience and physical lifting, and was told it was light lifting with no previous experience required. I asked about transit access, and was told it was a short bus ride away. “Good, good”, I thought, and asked the final question about equipment, and was told that while safety glasses, gloves and earplugs would be provided, steel toe boots would be my responsibility. Since I was not going to buy such boots for one assignment, I said “No, can”t take it, do not want to buy boots for a short assignment”. My contact put me on hold to check on the steel-toe boot rule and after about 10 seconds, she returned to tell me the boots were in fact not a requirement.

Satisfied that my requirements were met, I waited for the assignment description to arrive in my Email. On my way to get a submarine sandwich later in the evening, I received the Email, but a part of what I read shocked me:

“You will need to wear steel toed safety footwear and dress appropriately for the weather.”

What the hell just happened? I was told on the phone that the boots were not a requirement and now it becomes a requirement? I wrote back with the following reply:

Hi (deleted). Acknowledged reciept (sic). You mentioned on phone that steel toe boots were not needed. Can you text (deleted)  to confirm change in instructions? I will be going in without boots come (deleted) morning.

The response I was waiting for came about 10 minutes after in the text (see image embedded in this post). As you can see, it clearly stated no boots are required. I assumed those requirements were shared by the client she was working with.

Wrong. Upon arrival at the site, I was told that steel toe boots WERE a requirement. Good grief. While keeping my anger in check and putting on my best poker face, I stated to my client contact that I have a text stating the opposite was true, and offered to leave the site. If the steel toe boots were that serious a safety issue, I should have been told, “no, you can’t work here, go home”, and I would have understood. I would have probably given the temporary employment contact an earful for wasting my bus fare, but I would have done what was told. My client contact said I could stay, but I suspected he may have contacted the temporary employment agency because he did ask for my name while he was on the phone. At this point, my temporary employment agency contact should have called me. Since she didn’t, I assumed the issue was settled.

It was not settled. On my second day of the assignment, the client contact looked down at my shoes and said, “No steel toe boots, I see”. Wonderful. He didn’t send me home and allowed me to work. During my morning break, I sent the following Email to my temporary employment agency contact:

Hi (temp contact). (client contact) has expressed concern regarding the fact I am not wearing steel toed boots yesterday and today. He might have called you about that (not sure).
Can you confirm that he is going to be okay with no steel toe boots or is he going to insist. I do not want to buy a pair since I am going to (deleted)  next week and do not want to lug a pair around …………….. If he feels strongly aboutthe (sic) boots, we cann (sic) assume the parameters for the assignment changed and make this my last day………….Just want everyone on the same page.
Thanks
David

I’m trying my damn best to smooth out a situation that clearly has put everyone in a very uncomfortable situation. For the record, there was nothing obvious on site that was a risk to my feet. Most of the items being disposed of was around 10 to 15 pounds and, with the running shoes I was wearing, would not have caused more than a minor ouch of pain if dropped. Because I am extremely careful carrying things around, I never dropped a single thing on my foot. Still, my temporary employment agency contact has screwed up, and it was suddenly my job to clean up the mess I was put into.

The reply came later in an Email later in the afternoon but not from my temporary employment agency contact that gave me the assignment. It came from another person:

Hello David,

The position required steal (sic) toe boots from day one, as mentioned in the assignment. Without them, you were unable to perform the job that was required of you.

Please do not return to the job site.

While it was true that point was originally mentioned in the assignment, the person writing this Email had no idea my immediate contact overrode the requirements in the text (again, view that image! very important!). I sent the image of the SMS in a separate Email. There was no way I was taking fault for this. I did not return to the site as ordered, having only worked two out of the four days.

I will always remember how hard I worked at this assignment, how I arrived on time each day and did whatever it took to complete this assignment. Unfortunately, I will also remember how the contact at the temporary employment agency cut corners to send me on site, how she put everyone, including myself, into such an awkward position and quite possibly endangered my personal safety.

Needless to say, I’ll never take another assignment from this place again.

Thanks for reading!

David

 

McMigrant

Is the reason why Mcdonald's favours Filipinos over Canadian workers truly because the former work harder, or is it because they are easily exploitable? (image and linked story is property of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation)
Is the reason why Mcdonald’s favours Filipinos over Canadian workers truly because the former work harder, or is it because they are easily exploitable? (image and linked story is property of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation)

Unemployment in Canada, as of this post writing, is still stubbornly high, with what few jobs being created mostly part-time work. I’ve done a few part-time jobs since moving to Kitchener, so I can pay my cell-phone bill and keep my good interview clothes clean. But if the following report by the CBC is true, I may find getting part-time work in the future more of a challenge, as this could be a harbinger of bad things to come for job-hunters.

The report tells of three McDonald’s locations in Victoria, British Columbia favouring Filipino immigrants recently arrived over Canadian workers in both hiring and availability of shifts. The report also mentions some of these Filipino workers are being paid more per hour for the same type of work done by Canadian staff. As a result of these allegations, the Canadian government has suspended all work permits for more immigrant workers slated to work at these locations pending an investigation.

According to one of the Canadian McDonald’s staff workers who complained about the practice, “They (the store management) told me that they were more reliable because they wouldn’t show up late and they work harder. They do work hard — I can’t argue against that.”. That may be true, but the same can also be said of Canadian job-seekers who are looking for work. I for example work hard at any temporary job I feel I can do, despite my past background as an information technology professional. I’ve shovelled snow for money, delivered flyers to homes, helped a company move from one city to another, and so on. I’ll admit there were some gigs and temporary jobs I did not take, but it was not because I was lazy but because I knew I couldn’t do the job properly for whatever reason. For those jobs I did take, I gave it my all and made sure it was done right.

Perhaps it’s not about how hard these immigrants work, but how easily they can be exploited. Ever since Canadian businesses have started taking advantage of the various free trade agreements signed by Canada, Canadian workers have seen their jobs farmed out to foreign workers who receive a lower standard of wage earning and are not protected by the many employment laws that we have here in this country. What we are seeing now is a twist in the trend where we ship in workers who work hard not out of pride but out of fear of losing a chance to get out of an impoverish lifestyle.

After all, if someone put a gun to my head in order to make me do something, I would certainly work harder at ensuring it’s successful completion, right?

Thanks for reading!

David

 

My Visitor’s Eyes

Two pictures taken during my recent trip to Toronto for a job interview: one showing a bustling and expanding skyline and the other of one of many homeless people living in the downtown core. Author: David Gay, with permission to use provided credit is given to the author.
Two pictures taken during my recent trip to Toronto for a job interview: one showing a bustling and expanding skyline and the other of one of many homeless people living in the downtown core. Author: David Gay, with permission to use provided credit is given to the author.

Toronto. I was born and raised there, long before amalgamation made it even more the urban giant it is now.

When I was growing up, there was a saying that Toronto was the city the rest of Canada loved to hate. It was easy to see why: it was the financial engine of Canada, the capital city of a province that once was “a place to stand, a place to grow”.

Was.

A few weeks ago, I was invited to an interview in Toronto for a job opening at a company that was moving to Kitchener. The interviewer, the president and owner of this company, paid for my travel costs (thank you for that!), so there was no need to worry about taking a hit to the wallet for something that might not work out.

I had planned to return to Toronto when time from my job search and finances permitted, but around the summertime and certainly not this soon, but an interview is a job opportunity no matter what or where. As I packed a laptop and purchased online a GO Train ticket for the next morning, I was looking forward to seeing Toronto again. Kitchener is a great city but I have missed my hometown so much.

After I disembarked at Union Station, the first thing that struck me was how different Toronto looked since I left 4½ months ago to reboot my life and improve my chances to find work.  The streets were filthy. Everything looked run-down and worn. The look on the face of nearly every person that passed by was dour and glum. I wondered what had happened since I left for Kitchener that wrought such a change in my hometown? The terrible winter we had? Mayor Rob Ford scandal? Leafs playoff chances?

After the interview was over, I went to a nearby Tim Horton’s and fired up my laptop for a job search before I headed back to Kitchener. As I sipped my coffee and browsed Indeed,  it finally hit me. I understood what happened to Toronto since the time I left.

Nothing happened. It has been this way for quite some time. I was seeing Toronto for the first time not through the eyes of a citizen, but though the objective, unbiased eyes of a visitor. I was seeing the symptoms of the Age of Austerity and the jobless recovery etched into a city that once was an object of envy, had a bright and glorious future ahead of it, held so much promise of greater thing yet to come. Toronto, perhaps even all of Ontario, was now a shadow of itself from better days.

I had my interview, but my visit to Toronto turned out to be less enjoyable than I hoped for. It felt more like visiting someone I cared about in a palliative centre.

Thanks for reading!

David

The Joke Is On Us

David As A Lego Figurine
Has the jobless recovery reduced people to….things?

When I first read this article on Workopolis, I thought it was an April Fool’s joke, published early as an “in-before-others” prank. After reading this article again a few times and performing a Google search, I realized this was for real.

A 20 year old woman by the name of Leah, looking for work as an account services intern, created a Lego figurine version of herself in the hope of standing heads and shoulders above the job search crowd. The figurine comes complete with package advertising, such as “2014 Intern Agency Set” and “Build The Perfect Accounts Service Intern!”.

As a job-seeker, I understand the importance of getting the message out there that you are looking for work. I also understand that there is a bit of show-and-tell at interview time to promote your abilities. It’s a tough economy out there and there are lots of job-seekers and very few available jobs. My job search videos, blog, and Kijiji and Craigslist ads, my LinkedIn page, my about.me page, and my prolific posting on job-search comment boards like Workopolis is advertisement for my desire to work.

The line I draw is the marketing myself shtick. I don’t support the selling yourself mentality because I’m not a consumable product or service. Despite my tongue-in-cheek depiction of myself as a Lego figure in this blog, I have a lot more respect in myself than to regard myself as some sort of toy. I’m a person with feelings, ambitions, desires, and opinions. I’m more than the sum of my parts.

I don’t need to market myself. Anything you need to know about me is on my resume and through my amazing references (one of which happens to be my most recent former employer). Yet selling and marketing oneself is what job-seekers are expected to do. We’re told to put action words in our resume and cover pages to catch the attention of employers, action words I might add that sound suspiciously like marketing blather — strengthened, aided, encouraged to name a few. We must create a 30 second elevator pitch which, interesting enough, is  defined as “a succinct and persuasive sales pitch”. You know, for a product or service. A thing.

The author of the article thinks this is an awesome thing to do. I don’t. I personally find it horrifying. Why? Because there is a bitter irony in seeing job-seekers like Leah promoting themselves in the image of a consumer product. It reaffirms the belief the corporate world has of its employees in this Age of Austerity. They see employees as unfeeling things with no rights, whose purpose is to serve until they are no longer of use, then they are disposed of and replaced without hesitation.

That’s no joke, and not in the least bit funny.

Thanks for reading!

David.