“What am I going to do after university?”

It is possibly the most daunting and nagging question sitting in every student’s mind. For some, contemplating the future of their life is enough to make them go through an existential crisis. But in some ways, that fear is justified. The instability of today’s job market along with the sizeable number of graduates that universities produce each year add to the uncertainty that millennials now face.

Gabriella Fermo, a UTM alumna with a degree in industrial relations and psychology, understands the variability of the job market all too well. Fermo shared her story of transitioning from university to a career in last week’s Backpack to Briefcase event, titled “Leading with Me”.

Held in the MiST Theatre, the event was attended by a mix of undergraduate and graduate students who had come not only to learn about career opportunities, but also to discover a path to attaining career satisfaction.

For fourth-year biology and psychology student George Chalil, attending the event seemed like a good learning opportunity. “As the years go by, you realize that maybe medical school isn’t always the option, or maybe that there is something other than [medical school] that you can look at,” he says, adding that he hoped the presentation would broaden his horizons and outlook on his future endeavors.

Roman Huts, a first-year computer science student, agrees. “I’m not too sure about what I’m going to do with my degree,” he says, echoing a sentiment that is familiar among most students.

Throughout her career, Fermo has held a variety of positions. Her career story began when she was a recent high school graduate who immediately pursued a career with the Royal Bank of Canada. After three years of working for the company, she noticed that her career advancement remained stagnant. Fermo realized that it was imperative to obtain a university degree. This realization led her to enroll at UTM.

In her third year at UTM, Fermo landed a job with Accenture, a global management company, as a change management consultant. There, she worked with Fortune 500 organizations to help individuals successfully transition and respond to the growing changes in their industry. After spending four years with Accenture, she then moved on to work as a human resource analyst for Russel Metals.

Fermo used these personal retellings to illustrate her point: no matter what you do in life, things will change. More specifically, she said, “For all the pressure and stress that we give ourselves, [our ever-changing career prospects tell] me that maybe we shouldn’t worry so much because it’s bound to change anyway.”

Fermo then referred to a Workopolis study that revealed a trend of Canadians—specifically millennials—holding shorter spans of employment. If this trend continues, the study concluded that Canadians are expected to hold up to fifteen jobs in their lifetime. To cope with the constant change that millennials are now facing, Fermo advised the audience to use a research-based model for change management, which involves awareness, desire, knowledge, ability, and reinforcement—ADKAR—to help individuals achieve specific career results.

Explaining the model, Fermo said that self-awareness is necessary when thinking about a career, because one must have a goal and consider how personal strengths can translate into an employable skill. Understanding one’s desires are also necessary since our choices are influenced by our personal beliefs and attitudes; in other words, goals alone are not sufficient—one must desire the goal. The ability part of the ADKAR model deals with developing a skill to a level of expertise in order to appeal to employers who are seeking out that skill. Lastly, positive reinforcement serves as an indication that one is pursuing the right path.

Fermo also encouraged students to take online personality tests like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. She argued that while the results of these tests should not be taken too seriously, they do provide a good basis for understanding individual strengths and inclinations.

Among the various resources available on campus, Fermo also encouraged students to visit the Career Centre for more personal advice, noting that she frequently used the resource herself as an undergraduate student. She also suggested that students visit industry conferences and tradeshows to gain awareness of different career paths and to use the conferences as an opportunity to network.

A Q and A session was held during the final quarter of the event.  In response to an audience member’s question on finding a satisfying career, Fermo left the audience with the following piece of advice: “Change what you like to do into something that someone else needs.”

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