Let’s Really Say YES to Young Workers

Canada’s federal government really deserves a failing grade when it comes to tackling youth unemployment. That’s not to say that the system is completely crumbling (yet), only that far too little is being done to integrate young workers into the wider workforce, in their chosen fields. We need only look to the federal government’s anachronous Youth Employment Strategy (YES) to see the root of the problems facing new graduates and other young job seekers.

The YES, an ironic acronym in light of its ever-growing ineffectiveness, was created in 1997—14 years and 6 governments ago. The system is woefully outdated, and judging by the perennially high rates of youth unemployment nationwide, highly ineffective in today’s job market. Since the Strategy’s creation, the world has gone through a major economic recession, amongst other political and economic swings, and a massive shift in the uses of technology and applying education in the workforce. As the Government of Canada’s YES site indicates, the goal was to help young people climb over the “‘No experience, no job / no job, no experience’ dilemma,” yet clearly it no longer offers adequate resources to accomplish that. Many of its offerings simply link to other government employment services that are geared toward the general population. Of course employment is a concern for people of all ages and demographic groups, but clearly the specialized attention that the YES promises isn’t being delivered to the underserved youth who need it.

More than ever, experience and job history are major deciding factors in who gets hired, not to mention linguistic and communication skills (particularly in the federal public service). Globalization is leading to increasing competition and, with that, a demand for experience and skills. Young people are often shut out of great opportunities because of this, yet the government does little more than pay lip service and acknowledge that “something needs to be done.” So why, then, hasn’t the government overhauled this set of programs to reflect today’s reality? Why hasn’t it updated the YES every single year since its creation, as a dynamic, modern job market demands?

As Rita Trichur of The Globe and Mail noted recently, many hiring firms are finding themselves deluged with job-seeking new graduates with professional degrees in hand, usually debt-laden and desperate for anything that will offer them a steady paycheck. How is it that a government so focused on economic recovery and growth, that campaigned very heavily on economic issues, can ignore such a large base of potential workers (not to mention taxpayers)? Statistics Canada has reported a consistent rise in youth unemployment for several years now—particularly among young men—but still little action has been taken to implement new or upgraded programs.

The situation is not a complete loss, however. Many provinces, including Ontario, have worked to engage their potential student workforce and offer modernized services complementary to those of the federal government. The Government of Ontario’s Youth Connect website is far more useful and navigable than the federal YES site, and instantly gives a sense of being up-to-date.

The unfortunate reality, however, is the federal government must make a serious investment in a new employment strategy to pull the country ahead again. Getting young workers into their chosen fields and providing resources to further education should be national goals, because they pay national dividends. Today’s young workers will be the driving engine of the economy as the first wave of baby boomers enters retirement, putting increasing strain on the pension and health-care systems that are major pillars of the country’s economy. If new workers are doomed to unemployment, minimum wage jobs or positions not in their field, Canada’s economy will feel the brunt of it as the ever-growing demographic crush weighs us down.

It’s up to all Canadians to lobby the government to intervene more directly in improving the employment scene both for young and old. Canada has always derived a sense of pride from being a dynamic and forward-thinking nation of opportunity, and the heavy immigration to this country reflects the wishes of the people who come here to give their children better lives—and that includes better jobs for all young Canadians.

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