Youth Unemployment Is Everybody’s Problem

Four hundred thousand of anything is a lot. For context, it’s the approximate number of apps that exist for an Android smartphone. And it’s about the size of the populations of Kitchener, Ontario; Cleveland, Ohio; or Liverpool in England. Sadly, it’s also the number of unemployed youth currently in Canada.

That’s a lot of young Canadians without jobs—roughly 14%, or double the national average for all ages. Of course, it’s easy to look at statistics like this and think to ourselves, “wow, that sucks,” before going on with the rest of our day, not really giving it another thought. In a way, we have to do this, lest we become so overwhelmed by the injustices of the world that we’re no longer able to function. But, like most injustices, there are very real and very harmful consequences of such apathy when it comes to the problem of youth unemployment.

The youth unemployment crisis is about more than a bunch of kids without spending money. In the ecology of the Canadian labour market, youth are but one piece of a highly interconnected system, and when problems affecting youth employment become more and more significant, there is a predictable effect on the other parts of the system.

To speak plainly, this is a multigenerational—no, an omnigenerational issue (yes, it’s a big enough deal that I will use a word that may not actually exist to describe it). In other words, it’s everybody’s problem. The aging baby boomer population is about to exit the workforce (at least this is what they hope) in such mass numbers that a major chunk of all new jobs created in the next 10 years is going to due solely to retirements.

That’s a good thing, right? There will be plenty of positions open for younger generations to fill. So, Gen X and to some extent Gen Y will begin to fill these holes. This works great—up to the point where there are more skilled workers retiring than there are suitable replacements. Suddenly, you’ve got positions at senior levels still needing to be filled, in addition to shortages at lower levels due to the portion of the skilled workforce who were promoted to fill those senior roles.

So where do we turn for new skilled labour to fill these holes? Obviously, youth is the answer. The only problem is that a significant chunk of those youth will be unable to take on those positions, because they will have been unemployed so long that they have effectively disengaged from the labour market. In the end, what we’ll be looking at is a massive labour market shortage, and I don’t need to elaborate on how that will be a problem.

The solution lies with engaging these unemployed (and underemployed) youth now, before they become disengaged. It’s everyone’s responsibility to find ways to change this disturbing trend, before it’s too late. But how?

Enter efforts such as the XYBOOM conference this Friday in Vancouver. A non-traditional conference stressing action, participation, dialogue and creativity, XYBOOM will see professional representatives of all three generations working directly with youth to discuss ideas and begin to plant the seeds of change.

It’s an encouraging effort, one that deserves to be lauded and repeated in other areas of the country. As a facilitator of one of the off-site live streaming locations of the conference, I’ll be very excited to see what comes out of it. I think you should, too.

Visit xyboom.ca for more information.

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