A quiet crisis – youth employment

By Paulina Cameron
Oct 25, 2017
Photo credit: mihtiander/Thinkstock

People between the ages of 15 and 29 are the leaders of today and tomorrow, and we depend on their ability to foster the economy for the next generation and to care for the previous generation. Despite accumulating skills and making efforts to find work, many young British Columbians are struggling today and feeling anxious: the world of work has changed, leaving their futures unknown. 

According to the Chartered Professional Accountants of British Columbia’s BC Check-Up, the service sector accounted for approximately 80% of jobs in British Columbia in 2016. And over the past five years, employment growth in the service sector has outpaced the goods sector. This shift away from manufacturing economies to service and knowledge economies signals an increasing need for employees with “soft” skills, such as problem solving, communication, interpersonal skills, and critical thinking. These skills are often obtained outside of the classroom, so students who do not have access to integrated work-study programs struggle to break through and find positions that will allow them to gain these necessary attributes. Gone are the days where there was a linear career path after education – youth now face dynamic, multi-faceted careers that require a different skill set that educational institutions need to adapt to.

This situation poses a problem, considering that WorkBC’s B.C. 2025 Labour Market Outlook report estimates that by 2025, three-quarters of the province’s 934,000 job openings will require some post-secondary education or training. This problem, known as a labour skills mismatch, has detrimental effects on not only the individual workers and employers, but also the economy as a whole. In fact, the Conference Board of Canada estimated that skills mismatches and shortfalls could cost British Columbia billions of foregone GDP and millions of foregone tax revenue.

Industry and post-secondary institutions have an urgent need to recognize this, and to collaborate on solutions that will ease workplace transitions and empower graduates to feel prepared for what the labour workforce of the future will look like. Institutions that are doing this well recognize that instilling an entrepreneurial mindset is critical, as is bringing in programming to bridge the chasm between the classroom and “the real world”.

While there is a growing awareness about the value of focused programs led by employers, or through partnerships among different stakeholders, there are still many barriers to employment integration for youth. These barriers, identified by myself and others on the Expert Panel on Youth Employment commissioned by the federal government, include a lack of accessible and accurate information about industries and specific training requirements; a perception that employers are reluctant to hire young people; a trend to hire part-time or contract workers, leaving employees more exposed to precarious circumstances; and systemic and indirect discrimination against certain vulnerable youth groups.  

In order to break those barriers and provide better employment opportunities for our youth, we must help them gain a solid foothold in the labour market of tomorrow. As their support system, government, industry, and educational institutions must be adaptable enough to meet youth at their skill level, while keeping a keen eye on where innovation is taking us. With the world of work transforming rapidly, we all have a role to play to help prepare our youth for the work of the future.

Paulina Cameron, CPA, CA is the Director, BC and Yukon of Futurpreneur Canada. She is a member of the Expert Panel on Youth Employment and has contributed to the panel’s “13 ways to modernize youth in Canada: Strategies for a new world of work” report to the Government of Canada.