Kelly is 21, raised in a melded entrepreneurial family, living with her mother whose second marriage just broke up. Kelly is working at a minimum-wage job with a relative while she tries to arrange a co-op to fulfill her requirements for an electrical engineering technician diploma. And wondering, even though she chose it carefully, loved it and did well at it, whether she had made a wrong choice of career. She has a limited local social life and conjectures about why local kids see recreation as going to the bar when visitors come for other things to do. Her brother, Bill, is also a participant in this research.
FM: Okay, start with telling a bit about your family – who’s in it, where you were raised, what they did for a living, etc.
Okay. I was born in [a town of 15,000 100km west and north] and raised in [Riverville]. My parents separated when I was 3 but they got along and still do, very well, which is good. My mom got a boyfriend when I was 3 and they got married and he was in our family for 18 years and just recently separated. And he had 2 kids so I basically grew up with 3 brothers, because I have a brother [Bill, who also participated in TGOTS]. My dad is now in a relationship with a woman, since I was in grade 1, so I’ve had a stable family for many years, which is good. My parents used to own a convenience store chain and they sold that about 10 years [ago]. My dad is now in insurance and my mom owns a retail outlet.
FM: Okay, so you are the youngest in this pack of kids?
FM: Right. So talk about when you first began thinking about leaving Minden.
When I was in grade 12, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do so I stayed back for another year of grade 12, and then I worked until the college year started in September. And once I was there I knew I liked the atmosphere of where I was living more than here. There was more to do, new people to meet.
FM: Did you always ‘know’ that you would leave for post sec?
Yes. There’s nothing here to offer.
FM: And it was always clear that you would go to post sec?
FM: And what are you taking?
X College in [a city of 180,000 100km away].
FM: And what were your living arrangements at college?
The first year I was in residence on campus. And the second year I rented a 7-bedroom house with friends.
FM: And how’d that work, either of them?
Residence was good, because in Electrical Eng there was only guys, so at res I got to meet the girlfriends that I have. And the house ended up being good, too. There was a good mix of people and we never fought, which was good.
FM: Were you in charge of that that house? Did they pay their rent to you?
No, we had a landlord that we paid rent to. And he wasn’t from [the college city] but we could call him any time we wanted to, say this faucet wasn’t working or something and he would come and fix it, which was really good. And actually we did have one problem. At the beginning of the year we had this one roommate who used to smoke pot in the house all the time. And the rest of us didn’t like it, didn’t like the smell of it in the house, and we told the landlord and he took our side and kicked him out.
FM: Okay, and how were you financing college?
I took a loan out from the bank. My dad co-signed for it. I think it was $8000/yr, $16,000 in total so that paid for tuition, housing, books, food. And my dad would also give me money.
FM: Were you expected to pay back the $16,000?
Yes, I still am. I have one year to start to pay it back.
FM: Was this through OSAP?
No. Just through the bank. I didn’t actually try to get OSAP because when my brother tried, he couldn’t get it because they said our parents made too much money combined.
FM: I didn’t know that there was a limit. Would you have preferred to borrow through OSAP? Would it have been a lower rate or a better deal?
I’m not too sure. I didn’t look too much into OSAP; the bank loan worked for me.
FM: Because you had a parent willing to co-sign and financially stable enough that the bank was happy.
FM: Okay, so talk about how you chose the career line you did, and how you experienced college from an academic perspective.
I actually couldn’t tell you how I chose this. My step-dad at the time works for Hydro and he told me it was a good program to get into because they need a certain number of girls each year, and there aren’t many girls in the field. So in my second year of grade 12 I took a physics course that had an electrical part to it and I really enjoyed it, so I just went for it. I went into the program not knowing anything, basically, compared to all the other guys who did. But I caught up and I was really beginning to enjoy all the things I was learning. I never found it too difficult. People always say, you’re in Engineering, you must be really really smart. But I never thought that, it just came naturally to me. It’s easier to learn something when you’re interested in it.
FM: It probably pays quite well; was that a factor?
It was a factor, yes. And many of the people in my program, too, said they only chose this profession because it paid well.
FM: So where are you now?
Now I am living back home, working at minimum [wage] job that has nothing to do with my program. But I need a co-op still to graduate, and the school doesn’t provide you with one; you have to find your own.
FM: So that seems odd, that it’s a requirement but they don’t help out. Do they give some leads, some contacts, some ideas about who might offer a co-op?
They have a website that students can go to, that the college posts jobs on. But there are, say, 30 jobs on this website and there are 180 kids in my program, not including all the other schools that are also up against this. And they actually do encourage you to go find your own. Which is weird.
FM: I agree. When I was studying social work, a practicum was a required element and they placed us and supervised our supervisors, etc. We didn’t get paid. Do you get paid in a co-op?
They expect you get a job that would pay and they do also tell you, but only if you’re in a bind to get one, that you can do it volunteer and your school will pay for your WSIB. Which is what I did for my first co-op because you need two coops in this program, one per year.
FM: So it’s a 3-year course.
Mine was a 2-year course but they do have a 3-year course as well.
FM: So the arithmetic is a 2 year course of which one semester each year you have to find for yourself. Do you pay tuition on the co-op semester?
Not tuition, you pay a co-op fee, which is I think $200 or something like that.
FM: Is this the same in all colleges, or is [your college] unusual?
I’m not sure. I know it’s different for every program, though. Because one of my room-mates was in nursing and she had to do co-ops but they placed her in it. But she didn’t get paid.
FM: So what did you do – how did you manage – to organize the first co-op?
The first co-op was pretty much a last resort where my uncle did it for me, and he was just a general contractor, a one-man business, and the school accepted it, so I did it with him. But he didn’t have the funds to pay me so I did it volunteer.
FM: Does it seem to you that this is a situation that basically is a recipe for the industry to get free labour?
I hope not.
FM: But you need to have it to graduate, and it’s somehow your job to find the placement, which is probably not much different than finding a job, but harder even, because presumably they’re undertaking to continue your education, they have an obligation to put your learning needs if not first, at least up there. So under those circumstances, why would an employer offer you a co-op rather than hire the person who graduated the month before you???
The school says that there are a lot of benefits as an employer to hire a co-op student, including money on their tax returns that they get. There really aren’t that many reasons. It does make a lot of sense, why would they want me when they have someone more qualified for the job that can work, not just be there for 4 months and leave.
FM: Yeah, or if they’re going to do on-the-job training, why do it for someone who is likely going to leave. Doesn’t make sense to me!!! In fact, seems grossly unfair. Really taking advantage of students, I think.
And another problem is that the job postings that they do have, they say 2-year or 3-year students, so basically we’re all competing with each other.
FM: What’s the difference between your qualifications earned in 2 years vs 3 years?
The 3 year program gets more in depth about what we learned, even though we do have the same basic knowledge which is what any employer would be looking for. But the fact that they were in school for an additional year makes it look like they would be more qualified for the job.
FM: But either way, you’re only qualified for entry-level jobs in the profession.
FM: So why would someone take the 3-year program, I wonder? What would be the advantage?
The advantage would be that they have more schooling so they’re not competing with the 2-years any more. They’re competing with the 3-year programs.
FM: Did you consider taking the 3-year?
I thought about it but I didn’t think it was for me. I thought I learned what I needed to in the 2-year program. Plus I didn’t have enough money to go back for the third year.
FM: Well I find this really depressing and it really makes me angry. And that it’s not very broadly known, I don’t think. All right, that’s why it’s good to have this in the pack!!!
FM: So school was pretty much all a positive experience for you. How did you find being on your own?
I loved it. I loved every minute of it. I didn’t have a car which was a little frustrating but I did have roommates who had cars so when I needed to go shopping or such, I’d just go with them. But other than that, it was good.
FM: And what’s the plan, once you have this co-op out of the way and are ready for the work force? Where will you look?
To be honest, once I have this out of the way… it’s been very draining trying to find a co-op. It’s been putting my spirits down a lot and making me question if this is the industry I want to be in. Because it’s been very hard [on me] and I’m not even in it yet. So I think I’m going to take a break for a bit or just do something completely different, and have this just to fall back on.
FM: So I’m hearing you love the work but the way the education is handled has turned you off a field where, I hear, workers are badly needed, female workers are being encouraged, but you’re so dis-spirited before you get in that you’re considering bailing. How stupid is that, hey!!! Is there anyone whose job it is to care about this? Anyone that you could complain to?
There’s co-op consultants, something like that, a couple in the school that take care of all the co-ops. And I’ve had meetings and appointments with them, telling them how I feel about this, and all, and they just say Keep Trying, Keep Trying. They don’t have any advice, just say what’s in the interests of the school. Don’t have any interest, don’t care about the students, I don’t think.
FM: I’ll be interested to see what my Advisory Ctte makes of this – they’re some education people on it...
FM: Okay, let’s turn to other things. We’ve done education – let’s talk about your relationship with employment over the years: what kind of work have you done?
My first real job was at [a local] Dairy, an ice cream scooper. And I’m pretty sure I was there 5 years which turned into me being a supervisor in the end. After that I worked at [a large local hotel] as a housekeeper. I love to clean so it wasn’t a problem at all. Then I worked at [a local restaurant/bakery] as a server and baker. Then I worked [where I am now] at the wine store [owned by an aunt and uncle].
FM: These are summer jobs, mostly?
Yes. Except for the Dairy for the later years, I was working there all year. Oh yeah, I also worked one summer at [a local radio station]; I was a summer promotion person, just went to events, promoted products, talked on the radio. Forgot I had that job.
FM: Sounds like a cool job.
It was a lot of fun.
FM: So would your plan, your wish, be to find work outside of the county?
I don’t really have a plan or a wish. If I find a good job here I’ll stay, but if there’s a better one somewhere else, I will go.
FM: And if you stayed, continue to live with your mom?
Until I got enough money to live on my own.
FM: And she’s okay with that?
Yeah, she’s more than okay with that since she’s recently divorced and home alone a lot.
FM: What about social life up here? How do you find that after the bright lights?
It was good at first to come back – like at Christmas breaks and summer – and have your friends here, but each year it’s less and less, them coming back. So living back here now, I find myself going to [my college city] on weekends, or to my boyfriend’s in [a town of 5000 near college city], because there’s nothing to do here.
FM: Nothing to do, or nobody to do it with? Or both?
I’d say nobody to do it with, is probably the main thing. I find that people who come up here to visit find more things to do than people who live here. The only thing I ever think to do is go to the [big bar] to see your friends, but really you could do lots of other stuff.
FM: Why doesn’t it come to mind for local people to do all the stuff that people from away come here to do? Why do you think that it?
Probably because we take this place for granted. People who live in the city like to see the peacefulness of the town, and we who grew up here take it for granted.
FM: Do you think that could be changed, and if it could, do you think it would either attract more young people to live here, or be a better life for those who do live here?
I don’t know if it could be changed. I think what attracts young people to leave here is to go to a city where there is a lot to offer in entertainment. Where here they just don’t have that.
FM: I’ve been here 15 years, and there’s been a huge explosion of things to do over that time – music, for example. Other arts stuff. And probably sports although that’s not my thing. And I hear people my age saying they feel badly if they don’t go out at least every weekend to support what’s happening. But there are very few young people at those events, and I wonder why? Don’t feel welcome? Re music, it’s good music and I think the sort that appeals to a certain sector of the younger generation ???
I don’t know. There are sport things to do. I’m not one of those people either. I’m not artistic. But you’re right, in the summer when they have music on the [river] I have gone and listened, but I’m pretty sure I’m one of a handful of young people in the crowd, I don’t know why it’s like that.
FM: So what did your gang do for fun? You said the [big bar].
In the summer we’d go boating a lot, because a lot of my friends live on the lake. We mostly just hung out outside. We never went bowling or go play mini-golf, we never did things like that.
FM: Okay. I’m feeling lower than a snake’s belly because you seem so discouraged, and I can see why. Not just the problem you have to solve, but feeling a bit cheated, I think, side-swiped, that it’s come to this. Like you’ve been stiffed.
Yes, I feel like I do.
FM: Okay. Going through my little mental list… ever any issues with health, mental health, substance abuse???
No, nothing like that.
FM: Usually a cheery up-beat sort of person?
FM: And any involvement with the justice system, the police?
FM: I think we might be at my finish-up questions. Anything that come to mind before that? Anything we’ve missed?
I don’t think so.
FM: Okay. In order that the people who read this story understand it in the way you intend for it to be understood, would you say what you think is the Most Important Event in the narrative, the thing that most influences how this story is unfolding?
Probably my schooling and my co-op. Because it determines where I go for the rest of my life.
FM: And your feelings about post-sec educational institutions. Okay, and next question: People who read this narrative will form some opinion about how it ends up, good or not so good. What do you think?
I think it will be good because even if this doesn’t work out, I’ll find something that does. I’m not going to let it bring me down. I can figure things out, one day at a time.
FM: That’s good optimism in the face of adversity. Now two advice questions. What advice would you give to your younger self, whether or not that younger self would take the advice?
I would say to myself – that’s a good question… do what you love to do. Don’t do what you do for money. Because I know that after all this, I realize that I should have went to school for early childhood education. And I’ve loved young kids all my life so I don’t know why I didn’t do it. I should’ve just Do what you love!!!
FM: Okay. What advice would you give to those of us who would wish or hope to be helpful to young people like yourself, to help this transition have a better outcome or easier or quicker or whatever????
I don’t know. Just do what you love, do what you’re good at.
FM: I was thinking you might say that us would-be helpers should do something to get colleges to do what they’re paid to do, better.
Well, that too.
FM: Yeah, because I hear you saying/feeling that you’re helpless in making them smarten up, it’ll take something more than that. And this pisses me off particularly because what you’re doing is exactly what the government is trumpeting women should do – get into men’s fields so they can earn better – but at the same time, they make it difficult, maybe even impossible. And differently difficult for rural kids, I would say. Because if you lived in Toronto or [college city], there would be more...
FM: So rural youth are particularly disadvantaged, differently than urban.
Yeah, in a way. But then there’s also the hope that because it’s a small town and you know everybody that you could get a job easier here.
FM: Yeah, but the kind of job you need, not many people here do.
FM: Okay, on that down note, are we finished?
I guess so.