One of the specialized population groups that employment services works more closely with are youth. Traditionally, Canada’s youth have had a tougher time finding work because of a lack of experience that goes with being new to the labour market. In BC, the unemployment figure in September was as low as 4.9%. Yet the youth (ages 15-24) unemployment rate in September was 7.1%, and that was down 2.7 percentage points from August. Despite that, full-time employment for this group declined by 1,200 positions and part-time positions increased by 5,000 positions. These numbers contrast quite differently when you compare it to the different regions of the Province. The Thompson Okanagan had an unemployment rate in September 2017 (3 month moving average) of 7.1%, the second highest in BC, with the Kootenays at 8.1%. In Canada during July the youth unemployment rate was 11.1%, which was the lowest it has been since the recession of 2008.
According to the Brookfield Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, “Youth aged 15-24 are one of the most vulnerable segments of the population when it comes to automation. More than triple the number of youth in Canada were employed in high risk compared to low risk occupations.” The institute also reported that 42 percent of current jobs are at high risk of either being replaced or significantly reduced in nature due to automation. Therefore, they said there is a need to emphasize the skills of today, that being coding, computer programming, emotional intelligence, managing people and creativity. Typically the jobs taken by youth are cashiers, retail sales, food preparation workers, truck drivers and even administrative assistants. Unfortunately, these are all susceptible to being replaced or significantly reduced in nature due to automation. Back in January 2014 The Economist magazine reported that “the prosperity unleashed by the digital revolution has gone overwhelmingly to the owners of capital and the highest-skilled workers.”
The Canadian government is clearly concerned with the transition to a new economy, one with automation dominating our labour market landscape. In fact, the Federal government published the 2017 Budget and one of the major conclusions was to “help Canadians adapt to the changing nature of work”. Chapter One of the Federal Budget 2017 says:
“The rise of contract and temporary work challenges our understanding of what it means to be fully employed, and employers and governments need to be more responsive to workers’ needs than ever before. By better supporting hard-working Canadians and giving them more opportunities to learn and strengthen their skills, we can keep more people in the workforce, grow our economy and strengthen our middle class. This is especially true for Millennials, who are entering the workforce at a time of tremendous change.” (Budget 2017.ca ‘Equipping Canadians with the skills they need to get jobs’)
So where do we go from here? In 2016, there were 87,715 youth (ages 15-29) living in the Thompson Okanagan out of a total population (ages 15-64) of 342,820. That’s 25% of the working population, and it is a growing number. If the youth of the Okanagan are not employed, it will create problems for our economy. 2016 Statistics Canada data stated that for the first time in Canadian history, there are more Canadians over 65 years old than under the age of 15 and this cohort of people is growing at a very fast rate. This will leave our labour market in a precarious situation. So, we have to have a plan to train and rapidly incorporate the youth of today into our companies and organizations of tomorrow.
Our youth are typically internet savvy and have very innovative ideas. These represent two of the most vital pieces of a vibrant knowledge-based economy. The youth of the Thompson Okanagan must not be typecast or stereotyped any longer. They deserve better. With the economy improving after a long recession, an increase in the minimum wage, and automation growing at a massive speed, we need these young adults working in the new vibrant economy of the future. Companies must work in conjunction with local governments to invest in training schemes that produce a highly skilled workforce. Canada also needs to assist and encourage youth to start small businesses. Lastly, government and business needs to match more closely the demands of industry and government with the right people.
An important and successful program in the Okanagan is the YMCA Jumpstart to Employment Essentials. Their mandate is to help youth ages 15-30 gain the critical skills needed to find and maintain work in today’s competitive job market.
There are ways to improve youth unemployment and create a more prosperous future. We just need to think long term.