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Skills for Future Success: Insights From the Expert Panel on Youth Employment

August 03, 2017
Elisha Connell Elisha Connell
Student Intern
Education and Strategic Initiatives

When it comes to youth unemployment, Canada may be doing well relative to other OECD countries, but the challenges affecting young Canadians today are greater than they were a generation ago. Young people go to school longer, carry more student debt, earn relatively less, and pay relatively more for housing than their parents did—a situation that leaves Canada’s 6.8 million 15- to 29-year-olds stuck in a financial juggling act and threatens their ability to build and support the economy, let alone themselves.

Addressing youth unemployment, then, is a critical issue, and one the federal government prioritized by commissioning an Expert Panel on Youth Employment under Budget 2016. Chaired by Vass Bednar, former associate director at University of Toronto’s Martin Prosperity Institute and now senior policy associate at Airbnb, the panel focused on the challenges youth face in finding and keeping work, as well as identifying innovative approaches to help young people transition successfully into the labour market. Importantly, the panel paid special attention to vulnerable youth, including Indigenous youth, youth with disabilities, recent immigrant youth, and youth without a post-secondary education.

In June, the panel released its final report. Based on consultations with stakeholders across Canada, the report identifies the following six barriers to youth employment and workforce integration:

  • a lack of labour market information for youth and a lack of employment data for policy-makers
  • a perceived reluctance by employers across Canada to hire young people
  • uncertainty faced by young people about both a rapidly changing world of work and an increasing number of young people who find themselves in less-stable part-time and/or contract employment
  • inadequate preparation for the workplace and requisite life skills to succeed
  • systemic and indirect discrimination experienced by marginalized youth
  • a lack of resources for Indigenous youth to lead and positively impact their communities

To address these challenges, the panel put forward 13 recommendations to the federal government, with some given a recommended 12-month time frame for action. Grouped into six categories, the recommendations include the following:

Invest in the most vulnerable: a call for further investment in vulnerable youth through the enhancement of Canada’s Youth Employment Strategy (YES), as well as targeted support to create equal opportunities for Indigenous youth.

Streamline and simplify programming: a proposal to examine the feasibility of devolving federal youth employment programming to the provinces and territories, and use civic technology to improve the federal Job Bank

Walk the talk: a directive for the federal government to increase efforts to hire more young people, especially in rural and remote areas, and to explore the feasibility of increased youth hiring related to government procurement activities.

Engage employers: an instruction for the federal government to create meaningful mentorship opportunities for vulnerable youth, and to convene a multi-sectoral roundtable of employers who will create a youth hiring goal or challenge.

Modernize supports:a proposal to modernize the support systems available to young people by:

  • adjusting Canada’s labour standards and employment insurance eligibility
  • developing a holistic definition of skills and competencies needed for a constantly evolving workplace
  • increasing and tailoring the supports available to young entrepreneurs, including young immigrant entrepreneurs

Measure and refine: a call to improve statistical data to better capture youth employment information; and establish an advisory committee to govern YES and guide its ongoing operation in collaboration with a new organization recommended by the Advisory Council on Economic Growth.

While the recommendations are directed at the federal government, the panel emphasized the importance of tackling youth employment issues more broadly. Policy levers that support youth employment can also be pulled by the provinces, including the ability to shape a forward-looking and responsive K-12 curriculum and the creation of work-integrated learning opportunities during post-secondary education. The panel highlighted the role that everyone, from small and large businesses to non-profits, educational institutions to young people themselves, can take in improving the youth employment experience.

The panel went on to underscore the fact that globalization and new and emerging technologies are changing the future of work. Young people today face uncertainty as they seek to equip themselves with the skills they’ll need in the future. For this reason, the panel recommended “a holistic definition of the skills and competencies needed for a constantly evolving workplace”—a definition, they explained, that would articulate a set of “globally accepted attributes needed for the modern workplace” and thus provide more clarity and consistency in the outcomes of post-secondary education and youth employment programs.1

In the fast-changing world of work, reports by the federal government's expert panel, combined with studies by the Advisory Council on Economic Growth on building a highly skilled and resilient workforce or the California-based Institute for the Future’s Future Work Skills study, help to focus our efforts and debate, not on trying to predict which jobs will come or go, but on the skills our economy will need for whatever jobs the future brings.

Through the Centre for Skills and Post-Secondary Education, The Conference Board of Canada makes a concerted effort to highlight the challenges and opportunities facing the sector. Youth education and employment are important areas of focus. Through our research and this new blog series, we’ll share knowledge on this topic and others related to skills and post-secondary education.

1    Examples they point out that could serve as inspiration include the World Economic Forum’s 21st Century Job Skills; Foundation for Young Australians New Work Mindset Skills; and P21 Framework for 21st Century Learning. Such a definition, it is hoped, will enable those delivering youth employment programs to better align their metrics with skills needs and outcomes, while providing clarity for employers in the process.

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