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Roslyn KuninWe’ve all heard of them, probably met them and maybe even live with one or two: the sad grads.

These are the young people who did everything expected of them. They did their high school homework and matriculated with good grades. They put together a resume of part-time work, community work and references almost before they were old enough to drive. They got into respectable universities and chose the more demanding and more in-demand fields like STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).

Now they’ve graduated and can’t get a job. It’s not fair!

Everything our sad grads have done so far was good. The one thing they’re doing wrong is that they’re looking for 20th century work in the 21st century. When their parents completed university a few decades ago, they could usually get jobs, but nowadays work comes packaged differently.

Whether in a large corporation, a small startup or even in government, employers are reluctant to offer regular jobs or to hire staff. Employees imply a long-term commitment. They all require ongoing pay and benefits, and some need tools and training. If they don’t work out, it can be time-consuming and costly to let them go.

It seems that the very reasons that people want regular jobs are the same factors that make potential employers hesitate to offer them.

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Businesses, governments and organizations at all levels have to get work done and still need the people to do it. However, it’s often to their advantage to acquire the talent and skills they need from contractors. Contractors are selected for their experience and up-to-date skills. No training is needed. Contractors bring their own tools, whether these are cleaning supplies or connectivity. And, of course, there’s no commitment at all beyond the length of the contract.

Most post-secondary students, especially in the STEM fields, are well aware of which companies and organizations will be able to make use of their hard-earned and expensively-acquired abilities. Ideally, they will have been made aware of the new realities of the labour market. If not, they risk falling into old patterns and sending off piles of resumes asking for jobs that are no longer there.

Instead or writing and sending resumes seeking jobs, grads should be updating their presence on LinkedIn, a professional site for seeking work, making contacts, etc., and on other sites perhaps related to their specific areas. Video formats often work as well or better than printable curriculum vitae.

But all social media ties should be scoured to ensure that that there’s nothing about you floating around that doesn’t suit your professional status.

Once your professional media presence is established, turn to organizations that do work in your field – but don’t ask them for a job. Ask them if they have any projects or problems that someone with your abilities could help them with and offer to do so on a contract basis.

Many people who sought jobs for months or years without a nibble found contract work within weeks. And one good thing about contracts is that they often pay better than salaried work.

Contracts do end. But if your work has gone well, you might be offered another contract or even ongoing work. If not, you may have to repeat the steps to get your next gig, because work in the 21st century is indeed found in the gig economy.

Some things do remain the same. Networking matters. Who you know and who knows you is still important. Make sure that everyone knows what you can do and what you’re looking for. Start with family and friends. Professors and teachers in your field usually have helpful colleagues. Treat everyone you meet in your work search or in actual work as a potential lead to future opportunities.

To be sure that they will keep you top of mind and say positive things about you, remember that networking is a two-way street. If you always have an eye and ear out for what you can do to help your friends and colleagues, they’re much more likely to do the same for you.

Our economy needs and is willing to pay for the skills and talents of bright new graduates, especially in STEM fields. You just have to offer your skills in a format that fits 21st century conditions.

Then you will no longer be a sad grad.

Troy Media columnist Roslyn Kunin is a consulting economist and speaker. 

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