Opportunities for young workers essential for Canada's success 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY DAVE BUZZARD COURTESY OF THE RMOW
  • Photo by Dave Buzzard courtesy of the RMOW

There has been a growing recognition in the last decade that the world of the worker is quite different than it was for the last generation.

It is not uncommon to find workers over 50 who have stayed put with one job or one company or one occupation for decades. This is not just a reflection of the nature of the jobs available, but also of the rhythm of the economic machine that drives Canada and many other G20 nations.

But this pattern is becoming a thing of the past.

Today's young workers can expect a very different experience due in part to globalization, technology and new management models.

In a 2016 federal study titled 13 ways to modernize youth employment in Canada, one employer interviewed described it as a "quiet crisis."

"The shift away from manufacturing to service and knowledge economies means there is a greater emphasis on 'soft' skills like problem solving, communication, interpersonal skills and critical thinking," states the report.

"Our educational institutions are struggling to keep up to date with the pace of change, and students feel like they are behind or unprepared for the job market when they graduate.

"Today, as younger Canadians finish school, begin to work, look for homes and start families, they are 'squeezed' by stagnant incomes, high costs, less time and mounting debts. They are more likely to be stuck in temporary or 'precarious' jobs than in the past — translating into a delay in their ability to fully participate in society — and are at risk for reduced lifetime earnings and savings."

The report lists several ways in which Canada needs to help youth adapt to these changes, all of which align with the federal minister responsible for youth — who also happens to be our Prime Minister — Justin Trudeau's stated platform on youth issues outlined during the 2015 election and beyond.

This past week, Trudeau's new minister of employment Patty Hajdu was in Whistler to make a warm and fuzzy announcement about funding jobs for youth in Whistler through the feds' Summer Jobs Program, part of the government's Youth Employment Strategy (YES). In all, 49,600 students in Canada were placed with non-profits in 2016, while 7,850 got jobs with small businesses. In 2016, 65,874 students were placed through the summer jobs program. Each year, the government invests approximately $330 million in this YES program. (See page 20 for related story.)

Let's remember that there is a chronically high unemployment rate among young workers. It's now running at 13.3 per cent, almost double the overall jobless rate — and this is a 20-year average.

No students are working for small businesses in Whistler through the program this summer, but, in all, Whistler organizations, non-profits and the local government will receive over $130,000 towards wages for students in the program.

For-profit businesses and public-sector employers can receive funding worth up to half of their province or territory's minimum wage for full-time work lasting between six and 16 weeks. Not-for-profit organizations can apply for 100 per cent of the minimum wage. Employers must attest that they could not create the job without help.

In glowing press releases since the Liberals took office, we have heard how tens of thousands of youth have gained summer work and experience through this multi-million dollar program. What we don't seem to know is if these summer jobs have in any way helped youth get meaningful jobs or careers for the long-term. There is no tracking of this data in the program.

What common sense tells us is that all job experience is valuable to the person who is doing the work. Learning to follow directions, solve problems, be responsible in a workplace, and work in a team are all assets when it comes to gaining employment. But to date, there is no data suggesting that this popular summer, work-experience program is helping young workers get into their chosen occupations.

There has been no significant shift in employment numbers, for example, despite the Liberals doubling the amount of money available to subsidize student wages under the Canada Summer Jobs program (the annual budget was about $107 million). Statistics Canada has found that student summer employment rates for 2016 were roughly the same as in 2015.

The Liberals also promised to fund co-op placements in math, science, technology, and engineering to the tune of $40 million per year — an investment that might see real long-term returns as the economy cries out for trades and workers in engineering and health-based fields. But in the latest budget that was watered down to $73 million over four years.

Now, more than ever, it is essential that our young workers have access to the skills they need to find success, and that government remains focused on working with educational institutions and employers to prepare people for the modern work world.

This is not a time for broken promises or political spin.

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