Youth employment challenges

Policies that encourage a healthier economy overall are essential to ensure our younger workforce gets the opportunities they need and deserve. Photo Credit: iStock. 

There has been a fair bit of discussion lately about the lack of summer or part-time jobs for youth in Canada. There are a number of factors causing this situation that need to be considered. In general, the youth unemployment rate has always been higher than the unemployment rate for the population overall. This is true because of the typical lack of work experience among younger workers and the fact that employers will also tend to let go of less experienced young workers than older, more experienced employees. That being said, overall youth employment numbers have declined since the 1980s, and there are concerns that job opportunities for youth have also declined over the last few years in particular. 

A recent study by the Fraser Institute took a look at recent trends in youth unemployment, and the findings were worrisome. As the economy has slowed over the last year and a half, the slowdown in the youth labour market has been especially notable. From January 2023 to May 2024, the unemployment rate among youth, defined as those between the ages of 15-24, has increased from 9.7 to 12.6 per cent. This was close to the youth unemployment rate increase that happened during the recession of 2008-09. The analysis also found that the attachment of young people to the workforce had also declined. Over time, evidence has shown that if people do not establish a strong connection to the workforce when they are young, this can affect their relationship with employment for the long term, having negative effects on the labour market for decades. 

The key question is why is this happening? There appears to be a number of factors influencing this trend and the observation that things have gone downhill especially in the last year or so. One consideration is that young people typically get their first job in a small- or medium-sized business (SME). The SME sector was hammered by the pandemic, when many governments forced smaller firms to stay closed while larger businesses were allowed to remain open. The result was many bankruptcies in the SME sector. The total number of SMEs in Canada declined during the pandemic, which also reduced the employment opportunities for youth. 

Another consideration is how our public school system has changed to promote a “woke” agenda instead of a focus on basic education principles such as achievement in literacy, numeracy, problem solving and other essential subjects. It used to be that if students did not meet certain standards, they had to repeat a grade. Now, no matter whether standards are met or not, students are advanced to the next grade. This doesn’t do the students or their classmates any favours, and creates a perception that doing the necessary work doesn’t matter for advancement. 

In sports, we increasingly hear of school sports games where everyone gets a ribbon whether they won the game or not. It is very much a leftist philosophy that promotes the idea that poor performers should not be punished and good performers should not be adequately rewarded. With this approach permeating our heavily unionized public school system, is it any surprise that students leave the system with a poor understanding about how important are the goals of performing well and meeting standards in the workplace? 

The mess the Trudeau government has made of our immigration system is also a culprit. In the Liberals’ inexplicable zeal to massively increase Canada’s population in a chaotic way, large numbers of foreign students and temporary foreign workers have been flooding into Canada. They are desperate for employment and will take the entry level jobs that students and other young people would normally fill. The demand for temporary foreign workers has skyrocketed in recent years. This year alone, employers have been permitted to hire more than twice the number of people through this program than they did just five years ago. 

Often these workers have more on-the-job experience than young people so are preferred by employers. Many entry-level jobs in sector such as retail and the fast-food industry have been filled by temporary foreign workers when employers in these sectors would usually be more likely to hire young people or students. Also, as these workers’ permits are tied to their continued employment, a temporary foreign worker will want to remain employed so they can stay in Canada, providing stability for the employer. A temporary foreign worker can also eventually become a permanent resident of Canada, giving even more incentive for these workers to stay with their employer. Clearly the Trudeau government did not do much thinking about what impacts their mass immigration policies would have, and how they would affect the labour market and the job potential for younger workers. 

General economic conditions also play a role. Higher interest rates have hit businesses hard, and could mean businesses have to cut back on their hiring in general so will not employ as many young people as they normally would. Some critics have stated that the problem is young people do not want to work in labour intensive, low wage jobs. Although that may be true in some cases, it doesn’t seem to be the case for the majority of young job seekers. Unfortunately, the economic outlook for the next year or two is not optimistic, so it’s unlikely we’ll see an improvement in the situation for some time to come. 

This summer in particular is shaping up to be very difficult for youth seeking employment. Youth attachment to the labour market can have a big impact on the future success of young people throughout their career. We should all as parents, taxpayers and members of society in general be concerned about these trends. Policies that encourage a healthier economy overall, plus a more thoughtful approach toward immigration and its impacts on the labour market, are essential to ensure our younger workforce gets the opportunities they need and deserve. 

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