Youth Employment Stressors

September 27, 2013

We live in the shadow of the Great Financial Crisis. While much has been said about Canada’s resilience through the storm, it’s hard to ignore its impact on our youth. This group has been hit hard where it hurts: employment. BC’s youth unemployment rate currently sits at 13%—double the overall unemployment rate for the province. Poor employment prospects, combined with higher tuition, student debt, and lower entry-level wages, have left many youth that have come of age at the turn of the century feeling financial pain.

While some of the direst-sounding stories are probably overstated, there is no doubt that the good paying jobs are tougher to come by today, than for past generations. Here are some of the major stressors affecting youth employment:

  1. Age. In the event of a financial downturn, younger workers are the first to be laid off. And even if these employees are re-hired, it is often for shorter contract-based work. If short employment tenures continue, the phenomenon known as scarring—where cycles of employment and unemployment keep an individual’s wage depressed—can affect the youth worker.

  2. Downturns. Youth unemployment is amplified in economic downturns. First, fewer new jobs are being created for new graduates or youth to fill. Demand for service roles typically filled by youth slows as people cut back on eating out, shopping, and travelling. In addition, the expected mass exodus of boomer-generation workers has not yet come to fruition. Instead, financial uncertainty has kept many workers who were approaching retirement still at work, with some extending their retirement indefinitely.

  3. “2-3 years of experience required…” With so many job seekers, employers can afford to be very choosey. This is a constant barrier for youth but one that becomes much more difficult to surmount in times of higher unemployment. Experience requirements can potentially be overcome through volunteering, but it is difficult to gain significant experience through volunteering while still trying to pay the bills through roles that might be irrelevant to one’s larger career plans.

  4. Labour/Skills Mismatch. Despite higher levels of youth unemployment, CIBC released the results of a survey that reported 30% of businesses were facing labour shortages. In an economy with far less then full employment, this number seems baffling. This shortage is the result of a workforce lacking the skills set demanded by Canada’s economy. The vast majority of these shortfalls are in skilled trades fields. This data suggests many students’ education choices are not in line with what employers want.

  5. Student-debt issues. The cost of tuition has risen steeply over the last 20 years. A recent study from Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) shows national tuition increase of 305% (adjusted for inflation). With mountains of debt, recent graduates face tough prospects, as a low-wage, entry-level job is not a viable option to enable recent grads to re-pay their loan debt.

So, this is the reality our young workers have to face. How can we overcome these issues?

Pietta Wooley recently explored our youth’s “Failure to Launch” in The Tyee, posing several questions, one of which was: “Can Public Service Kickstart Canada’s Young and Jobless?” After highlighting the growing list of problems faced by youth, she cites the US-based AmeriCorps (a reinvention of the Peace Corps) and the recently-defunded Katimavik as important “rite-of-passage” experiences that prepare young adults with the confidence and direction that begets a successful transition to adulthood. Judging by the hundreds of glowing testimonials and considering some of the problems facing young adults today, reinstituting federal funding and expanding the Katimavik program could be public money well spent.  Another option would be increased provincial funding for summer job grants, which encourage employers to hire students through positions they might not otherwise create.

Of course, youth could also just bite the bullet, pack their bags, and move to camps in our productive hinterlands. Our resource sector is booming. In BC, mining in particular is forecasting a demand for 20,000 new workers over the next decade. While a handful of low skill good wage jobs can employ many young adults, jobs requiring some post-secondary certificate or diploma are on the rise.

By the same token, youth could make more financially prudent education choices. Instead of majoring in, say, Russian Literature, how about studying a more perennially in-demand field? Despite our new(ish) high-tech knowledge economy, in Canada the lions share of opportunities for decent wage jobs are currently in resources—and they want skilled tradespeople. Similarly, the high demand for data means math and statistics—areas often ignored by North American youth—can bode students well.

It is also hard to ignore the fact that Canada’s post-secondary education costs have risen sharply. Out of the thirty-four countries in the OECD, Canada has the 5th most expensive tuition. If we are to make post-secondary education more accessible and decrease the heavy weight of student debt, this is something that needs to be addressed. Reversing the last ten years of tax shifts that largely benefited the very wealthy would help socialize this heavy tuition burden that is currently shouldered by those who cannot afford to do so.

A discussion on the youth-employment picture is long overdue in light of high youth unemployment rates. Thankfully, there has been a sharp increase in attention on the topic. Including, the upcoming SFU Public Square Our Future, Our Voice Youth Forum which will consider the future of f BC’s eocnomy. If you are between 16 and 25, we invite you to join us on September 28th for this event!


Author Dan Ward is a Research Assistant at SFU Public Square. He holds a degree in Political Science from Concordia.

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