I have a degree in International Relations, specializing in Latin America and Security & Strategy. My minor is in Management (aka business). This means I got to take a ton of really cool courses – the history of espionage, colonial history, world geography, history of the Cold War, European politics, Latin American culture taught in Spanish… I can go off about Conquistadores and the Falklands War and the Suffragette movement. I also took a bunch of boring classes on marketing and entrepreneurship and the like. I loved my degree – it was great to be able to take whatever caught my interest (with the MAJOR limitation of course availability) and to create my own program. I was in the first wave of the program – it was only a couple of years old at my university when I started. To get in, there were GPA requirements and you had to meet with the Dean. It quickly became clear that the meeting with the Dean was entirely so that he could warn you that there were absolutely no jobs in this field – an exaggeration but really, not by much, not in Calgary. (Calgary is an Oil and Gas town. Yes, some of the companies have international divisions, but it’s a minority compared to the companies working in the Western Basin.)
Still, I signed on, knowing that I was going to end up in a pink collar job downtown anyway. I worked for O&G companies most summers and I started as an admin very near the top of a major company. The money was good, the contacts were better and the perks just lovely. (Why, yes, I would love to go to another Flames game and sit in the $$$ good seats.) Still, after six years, it was time to move on and I got another job internally. (HR requires that I not talk about the drama surrounding this move.) After six years in Corporate, I moved to the Operations side – the part of the company that actually makes the money. I ended up in a completions group and it was a total crash course in natural gas and fracing and logistics. And I kind of loved it. Loved the challenge and the learning and the data management. Much less so the admin tasks – ordering stationary, photocopying and the like. So in April I started pushing for them to make me an engineering technician. (Which is very much not a usual leap out of admin assistant status.) I started doing projects for other groups – learning Spotfire and relearning Access, collecting data, organizing data swaps, benchmark tracking, reporting and more. I started taking online classes at the local polytechnic. And 2 days after my 30th birthday, I officially became a technician.
I have never been particularly ambitious. 6 years in the same job makes that clear. I’ve never been in it to win, but in it to make enough money doing something I enjoy well enough so that I can live the life I want. So that I can book at whim vacations (January in Cabo!) and not need to worry about what I buy at the grocery store and take on whatever fun project strike my interest. So this sudden surge of ambition was interesting and unexpected. It was actually surprising how ferocious I became about it after I became pregnant.
I’m sure it’s partially due to Canada’s wonderful parental benefits. I plan to take the whole year off, collecting employment insurance. I’m excited to take the year off, and have absolutely no idea how Americans manage with a mere 6-12 weeks unpaid leave. But it means, I guess, that I was extra motivated to get the change in before I go on leave in March, so that I come back as a tech and not as an admin. Because then I’d have to spend, I’m assuming, another year trying to convince my (possibly new) lead that I am capable as a tech. As it is, I go off on leave, my raise comes in to effect while I’m on my 6 week disability leave (so I at least see SOME of it) and then I collect EI. Less than 55% of my salary: or, in real math, a max of less 25k a year, which is then taxed. So, not the perfect system, but one that I’m happy to pay in to so that I have this option. And then get to come back to my job in to an “equal or equivalent role”, which now means technician. It’s enough to cover, say, half my mortgage and groceries every month. Enough to get by. (If I rented, it would be enough for rent and groceries, even in my overpriced city. Not much else though.)
It’s interesting, Canada’s parental leave plan. Think about it. My back of the envelope math says that I pay in to EI with every paycheck, around $800 a year. I’ve already been working for a decade, so I’ve paid in $8,000 ish. So has my husband. Assuming we each work for 15 years, the system has broken even with me and my baby. Given we start work at 20 and optimistically retire at 55, we each work for 35 years, paying in to the system (and let’s pretend there’s no inflation because this is scratch math) around $56,000 over our working lifetimes. The less than $50,000 I get “up front” is something I will continue to pay in to for the rest of my working life. Taxes allow me to take this upcoming year with my baby, and I will pay taxes so that others can do the same in the future. I guess this is the so called scary socialism, but it just makes so much sense to me. It means I can afford to take a year off without huge financial setbacks and it means I don’t have to choose between spending the precious first year with my baby with my career and financial well being. It’s easier to “pay for my mat leave” over the entire course of my career than to try and save 25K by the age of 30 so I could stay home with my baby. It’s a blessing, yes, but it’s not a free blessing from on high – I pay in to a system that is designed to protect people. It’s not perfect at all, but it’s a damn sight better to me than nothing.
I’ve been talking to various peers about going back to work and keep hearing the same answer over and over. “Will you go back after a year” is almost always replied with “Totally will after the first kid, but probably won’t after the second.” The obscene cost of day care out here (averages at $1500/month/kid) is a major reason. The fact that many people in my small sample group are married to engineers who generally make enough scratch to keep a small family afloat is another. The desire to collect two years of mat leave has come up more than once, and frankly, it doesn’t seem like scaming the system to me, based on the math above. I know some who plan never to go back to work, but far more who plan to take 5 years or so off and go back with the kids are in school. (And therefore go back to paying in to the system.) It will be very interesting to see what people actually end up doing. Best laid plans and all that…
Sorry for all the half formed thoughts. I keep circling these ideas around in my head.