Over the past few years, student unemployment has remained stubbornly high, roughly 12 per cent overall and a startling 14 per cent in Ontario. This number reflects both students in the school system looking for summer employment and students who have graduated and are taking their first serious step into the labour market.
In the rest of the world, young people are battling even more significant employment issues.
In the U.S., for example, 16 to 24-year-olds are facing an 18 per cent unemployment rate while the under-25-year-old group in Europe faces a staggering 20 per cent unemployment rate.
The only European countries to buck the high youth unemployment trend are Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Denmark. With an average of only eight per cent youth unemployment, these countries are ensuring that young worker are not left struggling after graduation but are connected quickly to the labour market largely through a deeply rooted and successful apprenticeship program. The German/Austrian/Danish model seamlessly transitions youth from school to the workforce
Interestingly, a recent National Apprenticed Trades Survey shows that, unlike its European counterpart, the average age of Canadians entering an apprenticeship is 27. This data clearly shows that apprenticeship in Canada does not integrate students into the workforce but is the means by which individuals without post-secondary training are able to re-access a training system to improve their overall employability.
Employers in Canada seem to show a marked preference for older apprentices who have significant work experience and there is concern among experts that trying to change the apprenticeship system in order to better transition students from school to the labour market may have the unwelcome effect of reducing the ability of older workers to improve or upgrade their skills or re-enter the labour market with higher level of employability.
The bottom line, however, is that youth between the ages of 16-24 are left floundering in an ever more hostile employment world.
Although there is nothing wrong with working at low level jobs to earn a living, experts warn that long term underemployment has the unwelcome side affect of blighting the future economic health and well being of our young people and consequently our economy.
Ask the many parents and grandparents who are facing retirement or diminished income while at the same time supporting children who cannot earn enough to pay the rent.
Perhaps it’s time that Canadians had a coast-to-coast dialogue about how to better integrate youth into the workforce; how to ensure that young people have better access to meaningful jobs that provide a living wage and place them firmly on the path to success. If we don’t start this conversation, we may be the means by which the growing economic divide also cripples the generation of the future.