The Youth Employment Challenge in Canada: Searching for Solutions

In recent years, young Canadians have been facing an uphill battle in their quest for meaningful employment opportunities. As the unemployment rate for Canadians aged 15 to 24 hovers at a staggering 11.3%, it is evident that young people are grappling with a challenging job market. Without proactive solutions, their economic prospects may remain bleak, with potentially long-lasting consequences.

Economic shocks, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and recessions, leave lasting imprints on individuals’ career paths and earnings potential. Even when the economy recovers, the scars of these downturns can persist. Accepting lower-quality jobs during tough economic times can lead to diminished employment quality over time, resulting in significant income losses. Young Canadians, in particular, are feeling the brunt of these challenges, further exacerbated by discrimination and personal circumstances.

The Century Initiative’s 2023 National Scorecard on Canada’s Growth and Prosperity recently reported that the number of young people not in employment, education, or training (NEET) reached 15.3% in 2021, its highest point since 2010. This alarming trend highlights the urgent need for proactive solutions to mitigate the risk of long-term labor market scarring among young Canadians.

Recognizing the importance of addressing these challenges, organizations such as the Future Skills Centre and Century Initiative have embarked on projects aimed at identifying solutions. Their new report outlines ideas to develop interventions and scale successful approaches to bridge the support gaps that young job seekers often face.

While it is crucial to respond to the immediate consequences of economic shocks, long-term effects must also be considered. To maximize prosperity and inclusion for all Canadians, solutions should focus on addressing these less visible, longer-term impacts. This includes expanding access to career counseling beyond post-secondary education students and laid-off adults, helping young people navigate their career paths effectively.

Building robust career guidance systems, modeled after successful programs in Belgium and the Netherlands, could provide invaluable support. Additionally, fostering professional networks, job shadowing opportunities, mentorship programs, and social capital building can significantly benefit young job seekers.

Governments and employers can collaborate to create more work experience opportunities for young people, helping them avoid resume gaps following economic shocks. Emphasizing work-integrated learning and diversifying opportunities can go a long way in nurturing the talents and potential of Canada’s youth.

In a nation with an aging workforce and a growing number of retirees, the prosperity of Canada hinges on enabling all young people to maximize their potential in the labor market. This is an attainable goal. By implementing policies and programs that provide stability during economic shocks and beyond, governments and private sector partners can ensure that young Canadians are not left behind. It’s time to invest in the future workforce and pave the way for brighter economic prospects for our youth.