Short term contracts suck

“Rent a flat above a shop, cut your hair and get a job.” – Pulp, Common People

In what only can be described as a spectacular poorly researched move, a temp agency recently tried to recruit the man behind the blog that needs no introduction – Bibliocracy. His response was a wise one, and one that I’m sure was empowering, if it wasn’t so depressing. That, along with this tweet:

… got me thinking about poverty and employment over the weekend. To what limit can one stretch their commitment to ethical professional values when you just need a damn job because rent is due? I’m pretty sure the answer is … not far.

The move toward temporary labour is only increasing – at a breakneck speed in terms of the federal government – how can anyone feel prepared enough to “get started” in life if they have no benefits, and no guarantee of a paycheque in three months time? But in the short term, some money/experience is better than none, and I’ve got a feeling that a lot of pride is being swallowed with the hopes that brighter days are ahead. And after all, a three month contract in your field has got to be better than waiting tables, yeah? (NB: there is NO shame in waiting tables – a hard day’s work is a hard day’s work, full stop).

I’ve heard tales of people accepting short term contracts that are nowhere near to their home and sacrificing a great deal in order to say yes to the job. I’ve known people to not speak of the job they are begrudgingly going to because it was a cold, corporate position that held little more esteem (in their eyes) than a paycheque at the end of the week. Working several contracts at once is the closest that some can get to a decent living. This, if I may be blunt, is a shitty, shitty reality for too many. And, as Myron pointed out, should be the shame of one of the world’s most prosperous countries.

I suppose I am just adding my voice to the chorus that demands more permanence in the job market. In short order, I feel that employers need to commit to doing better at:

  • Replacing retirees. It doesn’t have to be the exact same position. On the contrary, quite often a retirement is a fabulous opportunity to re-imagine a position that is already in your budget and can be re-drafted to reflect skills that may not have existed in the previous job description. The entry level salary will be lower than the outgoing top end, so it is still a net savings for budget reduction scenarios, and the organization is the beneficiary of new ideas and energy. This is win-win.
  • Speaking for the academic sector, we must open our minds when evaluating the work history of job applicants. Rather than stubbornly insisting on sector-specific experience, allow yourself to focus more on transferable and soft skills. A new grad who has demonstrated a strong track record in learning quickly on the job is a good bet. I’ve been on selection committees where we have kept an open mind when hiring for a position that we knew would have a shallow pool of experienced candidates, and we’ve never been disappointed with our choices.
  • Be a mentor to someone who is in the job market. Even if you know that there are no opportunities on the horizon, a friendly face and offer of a chat over coffee can go a long way to boost someone’s confidence, which we all know is of paramount importance when you are in the hunt.

And, finally, in reference to that above tweet, talk about money freely. There’s got to be a lot of folks out there with a significant amount of student debt and little hope of paying it off anytime soon. When I first started at Ryerson, I noticed almost immediately that NO ONE talked about money. Which is something that mainly those who have little of it tend to notice.


When you are struggling with your finances, it can be all consuming. When you realize that no one talks about it, it becomes something to feel ashamed about. There’s no logic at play – it is not the fault of the individual that the current economy demands that you live hand to mouth, but nevertheless, we can de-stigmatize poverty by acknowledging it. If even one person admitted to me that they also had a hard time with a once-per-month paycheque, I would have felt less inadequate (seriously – once a month?! That’s hard!!). 


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