- Youth workers in Canada are increasingly taking on non-traditional employment such as contract or gig work, which does not make for a strong economic foundation.
- COVID-19 has most impacted industries that are typically the domain of youth, such as hospitality and retail.
- During the pandemic, social and emotional skills as well as coping mechanisms are needed by Canadians, and by youth in particular.
There is a need for the government to make a direct connection between economic development and the full participation of youth in the economy. Canada must invest in the infrastructure of workforce development to ensure a strong economic recovery while maximizing the participation of all young people in our labour force.
What are the main barriers for Canadian youth participation in the workforce today?
It is interesting because the barriers that young people are facing today are not new. We have long had challenges when it comes to racism and opportunities for Black and Indigenous young people, as well as newcomers and immigrants and how we recognize their credentials and they adjust and fit in our society.
Canada is increasingly being challenged to diversify our approaches and our thinking when it comes to employment, skills development, and training, as well as questions around whose responsibility it is to do that. Some say it is the employers’ responsibility but employers say they cannot find the talent that we need or there are so many people that are inexperienced and they cannot afford to bring in people that are inexperienced.
“Canada is increasingly being challenged to diversify our approaches and our thinking when it comes to employment, skills development, and training.”
These are not new challenges but they are increasingly making it more and more difficult for young people to enter and actively contribute to the workforce. As a result, we have this increasing precariousness of employment that continues to grow—temporary, short-term, contract, and consultative work that more and more young people are stepping into—and that does not contribute to a strong economic base when you have all of these odd types of employment and earning that is taking place. These are some of the things that we are actively trying to address to better understand the needs of employers, the needs of young people, and the offerings of those who provide intermediary-type support like training, credential assessment, and work placements. That is where we are actively spending quite a bit of our time.
“We have this increasing precariousness of employment that continues to grow—temporary, short-term, contract, and consultative type work that more and more young people are stepping into—and that does not contribute to a strong economic base”
Obviously, there are standout issues when it comes to racism, equity, and inclusion that we are actively working with partners to address by looking at capacity—the capacity of organizations who are serving those who are experiencing the greatest difficulty and looking at why those results are not improving and what we can do to support the organizations to enhance the capacity to better serve those individuals. Those are some of the things that we are working on.
How has COVID-19 impacted Canadian youth and what must be done to ensure they thrive as the economy recovers?
Young people have been very hard hit by the pandemic. The top youth employment industries are accommodation and food services, retail and trade, and information, culture and recreation. All of these industries have been really decimated by COVID-19. Young people are first in and first out in terms of entry-level positions and part-time employment. They have been hit very hard by the pandemic in terms of what they have access to. These industries are also those that have high in-person interaction and so for the young people who continue to work in these industries through the pandemic, they are working in high risk positions. There is a lot of concern around youth facing the dilemma, “Should I continue to work and earn or do I stay home and keep myself and my family safe?”
It is a really challenging spot for them to be in and so we are actively working with various industries to make sure that young people are supported through this period, that they are supported in navigating their options, and that they have access to timely support and virtual offerings so there is no additional requirement for in-person interaction. We are also actively looking at how they navigate from one opportunity to another so they could continue support and sustain themselves.
“Why should we wait for people to be completely unemployed and un-earning before we offer them assistance?”
The pandemic has really brought forward gaps in our current ecosystem where individuals do not have a lot of access to supports because they are already working but because they are working in high risks occupations, and they require assistance as well. Why should we wait for people to be completely unemployed and unearning before we offer them assistance? Now, we are looking at more pre-emptive measures to support way-finding and navigational opportunities for young people.
What is rapid systems change and why is it needed now to help our future workforce?
Rapid systems change is looking at what the emerging issues and opportunities are to advance opportunities for young people to contribute to local business development and really boost our economy. In order to do that, we need space and the parameters to test. Everything cannot be based on a proven model that has been delivered for so many years—we need the space. Canadians are a little risk adverse, we are very cautious, and that has protected us in so many different scenarios, but balances will help us in this space. When it comes to rapid systems change, we need to create the space for more experimentation and for more testing of interventions and models. Investments such as the Future Launch fund from RBC and some of the new investments that Employment and Social Development Canada are making are creating the space for that to continue and we would like to see more of that.
“We need to create the space for more experimentation and for more testing of interventions and models.”
What we are seeing in terms of the response to anti-Black racism with an abundance of investments and funding being made for job creation and entrepreneurship is all fantastic. What we want to do is make sure that those investments are sustained and that they are not one time investments with no opportunity to continue to foster this kind of thinking as we would like to see that take place over time. That is really what we are looking at in terms of rapid systems change: new approaches, new opportunities for testing, and doing the analysis, research, and valuation around those interventions to make sure that we are supporting the ability to scale and broaden offerings across the country.
What are some government programs and policies that are a step in the right direction for Canadian youth participation in the workforce?
An example that we have been working on recently are the changes and enhancements that have been made to the Canada Summer Jobs Program, allowing for the employment of students in full-time and part-time opportunities, and extending it beyond just the summer.
“Opportunities for women to support women and having a national childcare strategy put into play increases the amount of people that can step back into the workforce.”
On the policy side, we worked very closely with the YWCA and their Feminist Economic Recovery work, and to see some of their recommendations mentioned in the Speech from the Throne is incredibly encouraging. Opportunities for women to support women and having a national childcare strategy put into place increases the amount of people that can step back into the workforce, and that also greatly impacts young people and young women as well. These are some the things that we have seen recently that are quite encouraging that we hope will be sustained.
What skills should youth have to thrive in the pandemic and post-pandemic economies?
The need for social skills, emotional skills, and coping mechanisms has been increasingly in demand as a result of the pandemic. We have all been thrust into a situation that we could never have even imagined, but navigating your way through opportunities as a young person with very little workforce and workplace experience, in some cases in high risk environments and in other cases, completely working virtually when you have never even worked in an in-person working environment before, is a very big transition to make. Many of us do not have older adults or allies who have gone through something similar to even help us move through and understand what we are experiencing and what we are looking at. That is a very big piece that also dovetails on this growing rising call for addressing anti-racist practice in the workplace and really understanding what it is to be an ally.
What global opportunities exist for Canada in training our future workforce to thrive beyond the pandemic?
Canada has huge opportunity. In my work, I have been fortunate enough to be a member of the Future Skills Council, providing advice to the Minister of Workforce Development. Through that work, we have been looking at how coming up with the future skills strategy for the country better positions our global competitive advantage. The evidence is quite clear: we have a huge opportunity to be able to move forward with some initiatives that will greatly influence the rest of the world.
If you had 30 seconds to pitch someone to improve youth skills development for the recovery, what would you say?
I would pitch the Prime Minister. I would talk directly to the Prime Minister as the former Minister of Youth for this country and directly speak to him about investing in the infrastructure of workforce development. Canada needs to make that direct connection between economic development and maximizing participation of all young people.
We also need to make sure that Canadian youth understand that they do not have to leave this country to gain the necessary experience to be viable candidates. They can do that right here and they do not have to leave the country. Also, we need to make the case to make sure that young people understand that there are opportunities right across the country and not only in our big urban centres. They need to think beyond MTV—our Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. There are tremendous opportunities across the country, and with the right investment in infrastructure, we can really make sure that our young people are thriving.