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Are You an Unemployed Geospatial Graduate under 30? You’re Not Alone

Last September, GoGeomatics conducted a survey at their cross-Canada Back to School Socials to get a better picture of the demographics of their participants. GoGeomatics socials are free monthly networking events for everyone in the geomatics community. They take place in Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, and Niagara. This is my second article in a series analyzing the survey results. See the first article, outlining some findings of the survey, here.

One finding that surprised me was the high number of those who reported they were unemployed, particularly in Calgary. Of the seven cities surveyed, Calgary reported the highest unemployment. This doesn’t reflect Alberta’s lower-than-average unemployment rate (currently at 5.3%), nor does it support the popular belief across Canada that finding a job in Calgary is no challenge. Given that this survey was conducted before the drop in oil prices, I would assume that it’s only gotten worse since then.

Granted, part of the reason for this could be due the type of people who tend to come to a social – networking is certainly more important for people who are unemployed, and looking for work. But as the majority of the respondents were young, it also reflects the struggle that young people are having finding meaningful work.


For many Canadians under the age of 30, whether they are in the geomatics sector or not, finding work is a struggle. That means it’s even harder to start building experience in the career they went to school for. The Conference Board of Canada reports by 2020, 40% of all new jobs will be in skilled trades. Where does that leave all the people with a university education?

The Canadian education system is known to be one of the best in the world. Despite this, disconnect between the education supply and workplace demand contributes to Canada’s 13.4% youth unemployment, almost double the national unemployment rate. The rhetoric and the results simply don’t match up, and the current government does not seem to be focusing on strategies to help youth overcome their many barriers and obstacles to employment. Inadequate government spending has resulted in a lack of resources to improve Canadian youth unemployment assistance programs.

Are young adults just too lazy to put in the hard work? Some baby boomers might think so, but in reality, youth are ready and willing to work, but just can’t seem to land meaningful jobs.

It used to be the employer’s responsibility to provide training on the job, but some companies have been relieved of that responsibility. These days, human resources are complaining that they cannot find employees that are 100% suitable for their positions. Back in 1993, employers invested an average of $1,207 on training per employee annually. Today, that spending is down almost 40%, at $705 per employee annually. Employers seem to be scared that if they train their employees too well, and educate them too much, their employees will find better opportunities with competitor companies. Gone is the wisdom that if we take a chance on our employees and provide them with the best opportunities, they may just stick around.

Tuition fees are rising, cost of living is increasing, and job prospects and job security is diminishing. What’s the solution? In my opinion, there needs to be a movement to create more opportunities and programs to assist youth and young adults with getting into the workforce.

Youth are more educated than ever before, with 44% of young people aged 20-24 currently enrolled in school. These days, obtaining an undergraduate degree is the norm, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a big investment that doesn’t deserve big career rewards after graduation. Many young people with an undergraduate degree, finding no luck in the workforce, are returning to school despite the high cost and the uncertainty to pursue a second degree or diploma.

One major problem is the transition youth must undergo from school to the workforce. More programs need to be created to combine education and work-related training to close the gap. Co-ops and internships during a school program are great, but they do not guarantee jobs after graduation. These days, there are no guarantees!

The discussion of youth unemployment is very much related to the geomatics industry. There is too much supply, and not enough demand. An average job posting in Alberta receives about 50 applications, and only one person gets the job. Schools are pumping out graduates, but there aren’t enough positions to go around. The reality is that many young people are forced to swallow their pride and take a job other than what they studied in school. Employment and job creation statistics don’t necessarily show an accurate picture of the market, as they combine part-time and full-time jobs, making the market appear healthy and strong.

It’s not all negative. The more you read, travel, network, and connect with people, the more you become exposed to what the world has to offer and what opportunities might exist for you. As a young professional, you have to take chances, be patient, and move somewhere else if you’re not getting the job you want.

8 comments on "Are You an Unemployed Geospatial Graduate under 30? You’re Not Alone"

  1. Kirsti,
    You summarize this issue well and hit the nail on the head – “The discussion of youth unemployment is very much related to the geomatics industry. There is too much supply, and not enough demand. An average job posting in Alberta receives about 50 applications, and only one person gets the job.”

    This is a common issue in other parts of the world too. Many people have been scratching their heads about this for a long time to understand it. Here are some of the observations I have made that have contributed to the problem.

    1) The “spatial is not special” camp has drowned out the uniqueness of all that is actually is actually unique. Think about it – why would anyone in the world hire someone with no unique understanding, no special skills, no enlightened knowledge under the umbrella of general IT? In my view, if you don’t think GIS, point clouds, 3D and modeling knowledge etc. are unique then one misses the real point.

    2) All of us have been guilty of pumping out technology without pumping out enough knowledge to use it and to build directions that lead to better quality of life and improved economics for everyone. We are long past the techno stages and need to focus on the living oriented stages and how these technologies contribute to it better.

    3) The Government of Canada has been trying to support youth I think, but it misses the mark in this area because it does not have a national geospatial policy directly coupled to infrastructure, design and operation of development in the country. What the UK is doing in terms of BIM is a start, but a step toward officially reuqiring spatial data in Canadian development and extending it’s use through coommunication and social understanding is also needed. More use legislation is needed.

    4) We are failing to truly capitalize on the capabilities of the technologies we develop. Many features and deeper understanding of robotics, communications, positioning and imagery technology is needed and how it can be implemented. Furthermore, more examples of these implementation possibilities is needed.

    Good work. I think you touched on a spatial iceberg of perceptions. I hope it generates more discussion.

  2. Al Little says:

    Kristi, you sum up the problem very nicely! It is not all doom and gloom, however, as many of us old-time geospatial folks are set to retire in the next 5 years! That being said, competition for these jobs will be fierce!

    So the challenge is, what can you do to differentiate yourself from all of the others?

    Kristi hits the nail on the head with her networking comments. I may be a little biased, however, I maintain that one of the best ways to build your network and get your name known is by attending and volunteering with the various industry associations and events.

    URISA Ontario (www.urisaontario.ca) is just one option for leveraging those opportunities. Many jobs go unposted or unadvertised as having known qualified candidates in the wings speeds up the hiring process, especially when folks leave unexpectedly, and often at the worst possible time. It truly can become a who knows who situation.

    In addition, when faced with 200 applications for a single job, all with seemingly equal qualifications, does it not stand to reason that “known” individuals to the hiring manager will have a leg up on getting to the short list?

    I can’t provide a fool-proof way to land your GIS dream job, but I can point you to some historically successful ideas for getting your name out there!!

    URISA Ontario is also seeking interest from young (under 35) GIS professionals looking for a venue to focus on YOUR issues and interests. You are our future! We want to hear from you, we want to listen to you, and we want to help you!!

    Good luck!

    1. Jon Murphy says:

      Hey Al,
      Thanks so much for your comment. URISA Ontario is one of the stand out orgs in the geomatics community that does a lot for youth and older professionals alike. Lets do more together!

      -Jon Murphy – GoGeomatics Canada

      1. Al Little says:

        Thanks Jon! We do what we can with limited volunteer resources! And what a fine bunch of volunteers we have! So proud of them all!!

  3. Hi All,

    This is a very interesting discussion, my contribution is to inquire whether any in the group would like to do some proposal writing to get new revenue streams coming in and allow new graduates hunting for their first GIS job to work with those who have lived in the trenches. For those with academic affiliations the Canada Foundation for Innovation is a really good start going through the University’s Research Services, working on spatial projects for industry with new grads. Here are two to start with:


    and here is a search list for geomatics on the CFI site of what they have funded:

    Maureen an new grad of the Mohawk GIS Certificate hunting for work : )
    legs4amps@sympatico.ca 613-342-0882 Brockville, ON
    Secret cleared temp with 20+ years of Ottawa experience

  4. Yvan Bedard says:

    This is an interesting issue. However the question could be asked differently: Do all categories of goespatial graduates have today’s required background? As far as I know, graduates from full 4-year geomatics degrees don’t have problems with unemployment…Same thing for graduates with full 3-year computer-science degrees… So, I’m not saying there is no problem for a subgroup of geospatial graduates. I rather say that it is necessary to have a larger and more diversified sample of the geospatial community to better understand the roots of the problem.

  5. Cam Steel says:

    I can definitely attest to the fact of over-supply of candidates. Any time we post a GIS or Geomatics related position I get several hundred applications a week! And the worst part of it is most of these people are (at least at a base level) qualified for the position. It makes the selection process much more difficult and tedious to say the least. I can also attest that the applicants are in a huge age range, obviously we cannot ask age but work experience has been anywhere from 2 to 30 years. Leading me to believe our applicant base is anywhere from 23-55 years old, with a large percentage of those being under 10 years work experience (the under 30 crowd).

    Not putting down the schools or programs themselves, but these 8 month programs that pump out several hundred new GIS and Geospatial graduates every year certainly don’t help take away from the over-supply. With these job growth sectors being fairly low in terms of new jobs added, the number of people graduating these short term technical school programs are far out numbering the natural growth rate for the industry.

    Some useful tips:
    – Allow yourself to be open to diverse opportunities. For example if you are a GIS graduate, look into Survey Assistant and Jr. Crew Chief positions. These are a great “in” and your skill diversity will eventually be recognized
    – Create a compelling cover letter and resume. I cant count the number of template resumes I see, this does not help you stand out in a crowd of several hundred applicants
    – Don’t give up! The right company and the right job will find you eventually, just take the time to find a company and position that matches your work style and personality. Its a huge disservice to both you and your employer if that incompatibility only comes out a year or more later.
    – I can’t believe I have to actually say it but good interview skills are a must. Especially the basics; business appropriate attire, punctuality and strong communication skill go a very long way in leaving a lasting impression with recruiters
    – Diverse skill sets, besides what you learn in school. For a GIS position for example, extended database, programming and web-application experience goes a very long way

  6. Tammy Kobliuk says:

    Very good article and, having hired twice in the last year (in Alberta), I can attest to the fact that the number of quality of applicants is way up from what it used to be. And the industry is definitely not growing as fast: pressure to keep costs down (or actually cutting of costs), lack of physical space to put extra people, and lack or internal time to supervise an intern all play a part in not providing opportunities to graduating students.

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