For the past five years or more, landing that first job has been complicated by the economy, mountains of student load debt, unpaid internships, older workers not retiring, and kids moving back home. WGN-TV’s Lourdes Duarte reports on the first job detours many 20-somethings and their families are taking, and how they’re adapting.
“It’s not hard, you’ll understand it,” an instructor at Harper College tells 24 year old Andrew Castro. Andrew earned a bachelor’s degree in 2012, and was eager to follow his lifelong dream of becoming an industrial designer. “My parents always tell me once you have your bachelor’s degree, jobs will just come to you. And now I’m chasing the jobs and it’s so hard.”
For more than a year-and-a-half, Andrew has made looking for a job, his full time job. And he believed he had an edge with potential employers. “I’m one of their cheaper options. And I’m one of their better options because they can mold me to however they want me to be.” But when he started the new year with still no full time job in his field, Andrew enrolled at Harper Community College in Palatine, learning to program high tech manufacturing equipment. Andrea Zito is 28. “Can you open your mouth for me? She earned teaching and Masters degrees, and admits she kind of lucked into her first job. “I was an instructional assistant for a special education child first year. And then someone at my school got pregnant so I ended up getting a job at my school.”
Then she was laid off.
So she too turned to Harper College for a fresh start. “I decided to change careers and started at Harper nursing in 2011. And I’ll be graduating in May with my RN degree.” Maria Coons is Vice President of workforce alliances for Harper College. “The jobs are different than they used to be. And the employers have a different set of requirements.” Coons works tirelessly with area employers to identify job openings and make sure the school is geared to fill them. She says more students like Andrew and Andrea are showing up with four year degrees. So, Harper’s average age is no longer 18 or 19, but 27 or 28. And Coons says gone are the days of waiting until the end of your education to see if your chosen field is a good fit.
“So if you start out with an early internship, you can see whether your personality fits with that particular industry and then the employer can see if you fit within the culture of that employer. A lot of the students who have entered our program have landed full time jobs from those internships.” Yet for many students, taking on even more student loan debt is not an option. And some of them end up in Dr. Jeannie Aschkenasy’s office.
“I think it is harder.” Dr. Aschkenasy is a clinical psychologist who works with 20-somethings. “We don’t want our kids to fail. But I think we forget you know that it’s important for kids to experience that, so they know they experience the resilience of adversity and overcoming it.” She also thinks the technology that connects us, is preventing 20-somethings from meeting new people, which can hamper the job search. “It’s letting everybody out there know you’re looking for anything.”
We asked Tom Gimbel, the Founder and President of LaSalle Network if he thinks it’s harder now to find that first job. “If you come out of school and want to make $60,000 a year, ya, I think it’s very hard to find a job. But to find a job in a growing, legitimate, profitable company, no I don’t think it’s hard.” LaSalle Network is a recruiting and staffing firm that in 15 years has helped some 10,000 people find jobs. “I don’t think this generation feels lost at all. I think what they’re doing is charting their own path. And they’re not falling into the same we have to be all entrepreneurial, billion dollar ideas. And they don’t have to be 50 years at the same company.”
Gimbel believes the problem isn’t a lack of opportunity, but a desire and work ethic to take advantage of the opportunities which exist. And he says expectations play a big role. “For what I see for kids graduating from college, the question is what industries excite you? And can you get any job in that industry? And be prepared to work.” Despite the obstacles, our experts insist this is not the new lost generation. “I’ve seen resilience, I’ve seen hope, and I’ve seen people that want to make a difference in the world.” Harper students Andrea and Andrew are living proof. “As hard as it was, I feel like I’m lucky that I get a second chance and I was able to start nursing right away.” “I love my career path.”
Andrew is confident that Harper’s business partnerships will lead to internships and full time work. Andrea already knows a full time job and promotion await her in May. Please share this story with family and friends, and click the links below for even more information.
Producer Pam Grimes and Photojournalists Steve Scheuer and Mike D’Angelo contributed to this report.