The Future is Clear (of Jobs)

International Business Conference C2 Montreal Offers Little Other than Inspiration

  • C2 Montreal—a gathering billed as a prestigious international business conference combining commerce and creativity.

  • Alec Baldwin speaking at C2 Montreal.

  • C2 Montreal—a gathering billed as a prestigious international business conference combining commerce and creativity.

  • C2 Montreal—a gathering billed as a prestigious international business conference combining commerce and creativity.

Gainful employment — that’s why we’re putting ourselves through the sleepless nights and sleep-inducing lectures in pursuit of a higher education. When someone announces that they are pursuing a degree in the arts, inevitably their declaration will be met with a chorus of: “But what are going to do when you graduate?”

The answer usually varies between the self-deprecating: “Work in a call centre,” to a vaguely defensive: “Go to grad school… then work in a call centre.”

While this was not a fair joke to begin with (shouldn’t there be a honey pot at the end of the education rainbow? Or at the very least an office chair with all of its wheels working?), the joke now extends to virtually every major in university. An undergraduate degree is now required to work at a coffee shop—my theory as to the existence of the never ending stream of Instagrammed latte art.

Theoretically, there are still good jobs out there. The Baby Boomer generation is in the process of retracting their claws from the opportunities they got straight out of high school and leaving vacancies for the millennials.

But according to Statistics Canada, for the current youth (ages 15-24), unemployment rate is 13.6 per cent, while the overall unemployment rate is 6.8 per cent. That makes for a tough job market — and this is without considering underemployment (think the ticket taker with a Ph.D.). The primary resource for job hunters are online postings.

As someone who is wrapping up their third degree, I am familiar with the basic job hunt (this sentence was both a hook and a cry for help). However after submitting hundreds of applications and receiving little response, I began to wonder if there were no human resource managers on the other side of the internet void, but rather just a “LOL cat” comically pawing through a digital stack of resumes.

This is the reason that I decided to up my game and attend the prestigious C2 Montreal—a gathering billed as a prestigious international business conference combining commerce and creativity. The promotional and press-release materials emphasize it as an immersive experience that fosters unique cross-disciplinary collaborations between the over 5,000 attendees from 42 countries. At nearly $4,000 per ticket for complete access over a three day period, my expectations soared.

The atmosphere at the conference was carnivalesque (appropriate, given that one of the Founding Partners is Cirque du Soleil). The venue inside was exceptionally decorated with innovative lighting design, strategically placed cushions for seats and various art installations.

The outdoor portion of the grounds offered several food and drink options—these were less carnival oriented and more a nod to the level of sophistication of the attendees. Options ranged from calamari to quinoa to artisanal cheese plates. The centrepiece was a ferris wheel that overlooked the Lachine Canal.

Certainly, there were innovative ideas at play. The conference organized “Brain Dates” where attendees could randomly pair up with another attendee and use provided “icebreakers” like: “What’s the spiciest thing you’ve ever eaten?” to “Begin an idea exchange.”

As far as I could tell, the sign up board was populated with people looking for investors and franchisees rather than the professional mentors I had hoped for. To be fair, there wasn’t really much in it for a well-heeled business professional to engage in a brain date—what was there to be gained besides being pestered by a disillusioned twenty-something with a marketing degree?

Another focal point of the conference was the immersive experiences meant to foster creativity and camaraderie, getting participants to “think beyond common frames of reference” (in the words of the C2 Montreal press release).

I participated in two of these events: the “Cloud of Fog” and “The Nest.” The Cloud of Fog was a white bubble filled with a fog. I entered the bubble with five other participants and a facilitator. The experience was relaxing, but nothing more than that.

The facilitator, although kind and polite, was clearly volunteering for the event and had likely received instructions along the lines of “have them sit in the room for 5 minutes, then take ‘em out.” No one spoke, and most people spent the duration of the experience on their phones or politely smiling at the other participants through the fog. The Nest experience (courtesy of Cirque du Soleil) was similar — an intriguing experience, apparently run by eager yet underprepared volunteers.

One of the biggest draws to the conference were some of the big name speakers—among them Alec Baldwin and Chelsea Clinton. I attended several talks, all of them fairly similar. Before seeing Baldwin speak, Carsten Thoma, President of Hybris Software, spoke about employees as investments and partners.

At the end of the talk I was still unsure of what his company did (Google tells me it is computer software). Baldwin was an engaging speaker. He spoke modestly about his philanthropy, and he encouraged the crowd to support the arts. He also seemed to use the opportunity as a PR stunt to paint himself as a loving husband and (soon to be) father to two children under two (nice try, but we all remember the disturbing voicemails to your other daughter).

The organizers of the event quickly put an end to the brief question period when they realized the audience questions were not to going to get more sophisticated than, “Did you like your monologue in Glengarry Glen Ross?” or “Are costumes helpful?”

The closing party—sold out as their morning press release proudly announced—had morphed the venue into a full-fledged nightclub. There were fun touches like a makeup touch up station and different live bands and DJs. However, no one I spoke to actually paid to get into the “sold out” party, but there were people standing outside begging for my pass as I left. Congratulations on clever marketing C2 Montreal, but I am still unemployed, if a little more inspired.

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