The notion that a professional career guarantees a steady income and job security may not be so true any longer, according to a new study that sheds light on the growing number of professionals across Canada who are working contract-to-contract, part-time or freelance.
The survey of 1,000 professionals across the country, conducted by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives found that one in five — or 22 percent — are in precarious jobs, meaning that although they work full-time hours, they have no guarantee of permanent employment. In fact, more than half have fluctuating incomes, and 60 percent do not have pension plans or sick pay. For the sake of comparison, amongst professionals who do have secure jobs (78 percent of those surveyed), a healthy 85 percent have a pension plan or company-based RRSP plan, and 94 percent get paid if they are sick.
“We found a widespread sense of economic insecurity among both securely and precariously employed professionals,” wrote Trish Hennessy and Ricardo Tranjan, authors of the report. “There There is a sense that stable jobs in their field are increasingly hard to find: 58 percent of all respondents, precarious or not, say that jobs in their profession used to be more secure.”
James Marzatto (not his real name) graduated from Osgoode Law School in 2016. After an articling position at a prominent Bay Street firm, and a successful first-time attempt at passing the bar, Marzatto found himself struggling to find work in corporate litigation. He took the first job that came along — a one-year stint in insurance law — not nearly the kind of work he saw himself doing. “It’s kind of disappointing. I don’t really want to work in insurance law, and even then, they’ve told me that it’s just a one-year contract without benefits, so I have no guarantee of permanent employment,” Marzatto, who graduated with close to $40,000 in student debt told VICE Free.
The study confirms that precarious professionals are spread across every occupation, but the highest proportion of them work in education (28 percent), healthcare (18 percent), business, finance and administration (19 percent). Indeed, in the highly saturated market of Toronto, it is notoriously hard to secure a permanent teaching position. In fact, it can often at least five years for eligible teacher candidates to gather enough experience to crack the public school board’s “seniority” list.
Shanna, a therapist, told Hennessy and Tranjan that she never knows what her paycheque is going to look like because she gets paid based on the number of clients she brings in. “It surprisingly is harder to find work than I thought. I’m happy where I am, I like where I am, it’s just unpredictable.“
And unpredictability, unfortunately translates into a lower income, according to the CCPA study. For instance, 45 percent of precarious professionals reported earning less than $60,000 annually, compared to 17 percent of professionals in secure jobs. Women seem to comprise a disproportionately larger portion of precarious professionals than men — 60 percent versus 40 percent — but on average, professionals who identify as racialized seem to have the same level of precarious employment than those who are non-racialized.
The long-held idea that majoring in a professional field — medicine, engineering, law, accounting — will garner a high return on your educational investment in the form of a steady salary and benefits, appears to be increasingly false. “A university education in a profession is supposed to be the ticket into a stable job but the survey reflects that more than half (53 per cent) of the respondents who have a university or bachelor’s degree work contract-to-contract, part-time, or freelance, while 31 per cent of those who completed a postgraduate university degree work on contract, part-time, or freelance,” Hennessy and Tranjan observe.
“Professions have long been seen as the domain of Canada’s elite: well-educated, highly- credentialized, well-compensated, white-collar workers,” the report said. “Precarious work has, for the most part, been seen as a blue-collar workers’ problem, but the findings from this survey indicate that there is no safe harbour from precarious work and economic instability in Canada.”