Harsh Realities: Ontario youth unemployment isn’t getting better

Young people are being left out of the workforce.

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Across Ontario, young people are the last to get hired and first get fired. Hannah Vervoort knows exactly what this feels like.

The 18-year-old currently studies political science at Carleton University and is jobless. Like many other young people in the province is unemployed and facing many struggles to find and keep a job.

Lacking a job in a new city and living on her own for the first time, Vervoort needs help from home.

She had a job in her hometown of Thunder Bay, but was forced to leave her position when she came to Ottawa for school. That job at Shoppers Drug Mart took her three years to find and now after nearly four months in Ottawa she’s facing the same issue.

Vervoort is looking for something that fits her school schedule, is accessible by transit and somewhere in line with her interests. None of these things are the problem.

Experience was the problem and Vervoort did not have any.

“Everywhere wanted at least a year or two of experience,” she said.

Hannah Vervoort is part of an ongoing trend of the struggle of young people to find and keep a job. Unemployment numbers suggest many young people are being shut out of the workforce.

Statistics Canada puts Ontario’s unemployment rate for those 15 and older at 6.3 per cent. That’s better than the rebound after the 2008 financial crisis when it stood at 9.6 per cent in June 2009.

The troubling statistic for many is Ontario lags behind the national unemployment rate for 15 to 24 year olds sitting at 13.5 per cent compared to the national average of 12.9 per cent.

Sean Geobey expected to see the unemployment rates climb for everyone after the 2008 crisis, but did not predict that the rates for young people would not recover.

“This isn’t a problem we expect to be going away,” he said.

Geobey is a professor at the University of Waterloo and researches how the workforce and the labour market are changing. He attributes the lack of employment recovery for youth in Ontario to the shift away from the manufacturing industry. Then there’s the fact that people also aren’t retiring as early as they used to. Cutback in social spending is another factor.

It turns out, the issue isn’t a lack of jobs, it’s the result of a gap between skills employers are looking for and what students are taught in school. Students are expected to come out of school with a fresh degree and know specialized skills employers are looking for.

Focused on their own bottom line employers have dramatically cut back on training costs over the past 20 years. “When employers decide they are not going to invest in that (training) no one benefits,” Geobey said.

Vervoort is unsure of the job she will land after she graduates, but she can be sure that without a change she will have to learn how to do her job without any training from her employer.

Noticing this shift in investment, educators are now doing their best to prepare students for a changing work environment.

Ontario’s colleges develop, change and lose programs based on advice from industry advisors and data from the labour market. These programs are developed and tailored to specific industries to help students develop specific skills.

Invented to fill a gap from universities, colleges aim to give everyone an opportunity at a job.

“The purpose of college is to make sure kids get trained for jobs when they graduate,” said Linda Franklin, President of Colleges Ontario.

For Franklin, experiential learning is critical to helping students develop specialized skills and get jobs. Almost 70 per cent of college programs have one form of experiential learning to provide students with training they will not receive in the workplace and provide them with definable hands-on skills.

While experiential learning may be of incredible value for students, Franklin says apprenticeships, while still valuable, are difficult to begin with.

“It’s really hard to figure out how to be an apprentice in this province. Almost impossible,” Franklin said.

Students face large obstacles; finding an employer and dealing with tremendous bureaucracy.

With cut backs on training and focus on the bottom line, companies are more hesitant to take on an apprentice. It has become expensive for a company to teach someone how to become a skilled trades person.

Bringing young people into the labour force does not just rest on investment from educators and employers, but from all segments of the population.

Many non-profit groups, and social programs attempt to combat the problem of youth unemployment. None of them have helped Vervoort. These programs target segments of the population that were already on the fringes.

Last year, HireUp launched in the Toronto area with the goal of ending youth homelessness and getting jobs for disadvantaged youths. Although the program only helped two youth find jobs, the job portal has learned several valuable lessons.

The job portal is not simply enough. Knowing now that employers want youth coming to them with skills HireUp is planning to develop resources that train youth in particular industries. These skills can then be transferred to a job.

Because they have partnered with 36 other youth organizations across Canada including the Youth Services Bureau in Ottawa, they recognize the need for all parties to work together.

“If everyone works in isolation we are never going to move the needle on this,” Cameron Voyame, project coordinator at HireUp, said.

This ensures everyone is working towards the same goal and bridging the gaps youth face when trying to get a job.

With a particular focus on vulnerable youth the Expert Panel on Youth Unemployment hopes to provide recommendations to government to help end youth unemployment. By travelling across the country, the panel will engage with Canadian youth to hear about their struggles and ways the government could help them.

Panel Chair Vasiliki Bednar, says, the final report is due in March 2017, and it may not help a young person find a job next year. But, it may propose budgetary changes, or reform of the Canada Summer Jobs Program.

Back at Carleton, Vervoort isn’t aware of the many programs that could be helping her get a job. She wants more help and is hopeful this panel can do something for her.

“One of the biggest things is just to reach out to those who are unemployed,” she said. Helping those who are unemployed proves to be more productive for our entire economy.

With a member of her family being laid off a couple of years ago she knows the detrimental effects being unemployed has on everyone. She now wonders if her degree will actually be productive in providing her with a job that allows her to enjoy a stable income.

For now, like the many other young people in the province, she continues looking for a job and waits. Vervoort knows that without a dramatic shift she will be the last one hired.

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