By SARAH NELSON
Mandolin Copa has done everything right. She is smart. She is educated. She is hard-working. But two years after finishing her college degree, Copa still can’t find a job.
It’s not like she hasn’t applied. She has. Hundreds of times.
“You name it, I’ve applied for it,” Copa said.
Food service. Check.
Housekeeping. Admin. Marketing. Call Center. Technical Assistance. Check. Check. Check.
“It’s super frustrating,” Copa said.
Copa, a native of the Brainerd lakes area, graduated from North Central University in Minneapolis with a bachelor’s degree in contemporary Christian music with the intent of, well, being a musician. “It’s kind of a one in a million shot,” said Copa of “making it” in the music industry where so many others are pursuing the same career.
Copa said her major equipped her to be a musician and that most people with the same major end up working in a church or teach music lessons.
“It’s kind of a no-brainer for a music major. You plan on teaching or — well, yeah, you plan on teaching,” she said. “That’s just not what I wanted.”
Copa said even with her passion for music and dreams of a career as a professional musician, she is realistic about her opportunities.
“I don’t want to go be in an opera. I figured I would go be a music pastor somewhere,” she said.
Copa graduated from North Central in 2009 and has yet to find a career in music or anything else. She said for most of the past two years she has been unemployed or, at the very least, under-employed.
Copa, like others in her generation, have been accused of being too picky when it comes to settling into a career, something she said simply isn’t true. “It’s not that I’m above doing it. It’s just that it won’t pay my bills,” Copa said. She estimated she would need to find a job that pays at least $9 per hour just for her to survive on. “(That’s) just making it — living with my parents with rent and food free,” she said.
Since graduation in 2009, Copa said she has worked a series of low-paying temporary jobs that have helped her get by, but have done little for her long-term planning. “Whatever pays the bills.
“It’s temporary — that’s the problem,” she said. “I’m getting to the point where I’m looking for things I can do for a long time.”
Lack of stable employment has afforded Copa few luxuries and left her virtually homeless. She said she has lived with family and friends who have opened their homes to her. Most of her belongings are packed into six plastic bins.
“To be 24 and have a minimal amount of stuff, it takes away from that feeling of independence,” she said. “I’m stuck. It makes you feel like a failure — like you’re not contributing to society.”
Copa said of the jobs she has applied for she is either over-qualified or not qualified enough. Employers tend to seek out individuals with more experience or young people with very flexible schedules. “I’m kind of in the middle,” Copa said.
Copa said she has had lots of call-backs on jobs she has applied for. She has completed interviews. She has even taken classes on how to interview successfully. “It’s just never ‘the right fit,’” she said.
Being out of college for two years and still struggling to find viable employment, Copa is starting to doubt the value of her private school education.
“I’m quite positive that 97 percent of people who interview could care less,” she said. Copa received a fair amount of financial aid to help finance her education, but still has student loans to repay.
With the job market still slowly recovering from the recession, Copa said she has considered continuing her education, but is hesitant because of her existing school loans. “I have this huge chunk of debt already. It seems really stupid to add to that,” she said. “It just doesn’t seem worth it.”
Despite her personal struggles, Copa knows that she is not alone. “It puts my generation in a really helpless place,” she said.
Copa said even with a struggling a economy and competitive job market she sees friends pass up fair paying jobs for lesser paying ones. “They think it’s pointless to get paid for things they don’t enjoy doing,” she said.
Copa said she recognizes a difference in her generation from generations past in the jobs they want to make into careers. “I know (my) generation is super experiential — we need to feel things,” she said. “I’ll take a job that pays crap if it’s something I’m passionate about.”
Copa is passionate. She said besides music, her other great passion is working with people.
Over the summer, Copa worked with Minneapolis-based non-profit that works with the homeless population. “You get to see the success of what you’re investing your time in,” Copa said. “If I can get paid for this — that would be awesome.”
Like other jobs she has taken since finishing her education, Copa’s job with the homeless mission was temporary.
SARAH NELSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5879.