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Sustainable work in digital media

By Steph Guthrie

We hear a lot these days about the collapse of the middle class and the disappearance of decent jobs. Canada’s proportion of minimum wage workers has more than doubled in the last decade – now nearly one in ten Canadians earns the provincial minimum wage. Estimates suggest at least 100,000 young Canadians are doing unpaid internships, while those who can’t afford to work for no paycheque often see their skills and talent go to waste in dead-end jobs. Many employers save on money and risk (oh, and violate the Canada Labour Code) by classifying workers as “contractors” rather than employees, despite retaining control over their workers’ earnings, schedules, duties and place of work.

How are these trends playing out in digital media work? Several of Canada’s urban centres have thriving digital media industries, but many entry-level jobs have morphed into internships, and much of the work is contract-based and unpredictable. Considering the rate of technological progress and trends like offshoring, the temporary foreign worker program and start-up flight to Silicon Valley, contract work is favoured in this perpetually-in-flux field, but it also creates a baseline state of unpredictability for workers. Many of those in the industry are locked in a constant cycle of seeking, pitching and completing new projects, which is satisfying for some but too precarious for others.

What would an industry that worked for everyone look like? Digital media is a broad occupational community, with job profiles ranging from interactive & mobile developer to web content manager to social media officer to game designer. Passion for the products, projects or programs we work on is often a key element of what drives digital media workers. We are in many ways united by a desire to make beautiful, interesting and useful things. What about the untold hours and energy we invest in those creations? Could the labour itself also be a force for unity and collective innovation?

Digital media as a sector is subject to copious discussion through the lenses of entrepreneurship, investment and government support or regulation, but rarely do we discuss how workers ourselves can shape this industry. A free MediaTech Commons event on September 11th at Liberty Village’s Locus 144 Lounge will explore what people who work in digital media can do to help make sure the work is available, interesting and around for the long term.

Back in June, the MediaTech Commons packed the fourth floor of the Brazen Head Pub in Liberty Village for a fun and informative mixer for digital media workers. Attendees all made new connections over drinks and snacks while gleaning insights from speaker Mandy Gilbert, founder of recruitment firm Creative Niche.

To build on the energy sparked at our first gathering, our second digital media mixer on September 11th will feature a talk by video game industry researcher Johanna Weststar of the University of Western Ontario. Johanna will also facilitate a Q&A session about how workers are collaborating to improve their working lives, featuring representatives from the Canadian Media Guild and co-working space Bento Miso. RSVP for this free event to connect with industry colleagues and imagine what the future of digital media work could look like.

Steph Guthrie is the moderator of the MediaTech Commons. She’s an internet animator and a full-time feminist. You can join her at the MediaTech Commons by signing up here. Already a member? Log in here.


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