International Ranking 
Canada benchmarked against 15 countries

Jobless Youth

Key Messages

  • Canada gets a “B” grade and ranks 9th out of 16 peer countries.
  • Canada does not always do a good job of facilitating the school-to-work transition.
  • The proportion of Canadian youth in vocational training is low.

Jobless Youth, 2010 chart

Putting jobless youth in context

Self-sufficiency is promoted by ensuring active participation in the economy and society by all members of a society. Two indicators are used to assess how well a country is facilitating self-sufficiency among its population: income of disabled people and jobless youth.

The jobless youth indicator measures the proportion of people aged 20–24 who are neither working nor attending school. It sheds light on whether the school-to-work transition is successful in a given country. This transition depends on the length and quality of the schooling received and on general labour market and economic conditions. For most people, being employed is the most important means of achieving self-sufficiency.

Why is jobless youth a concern?

Most societies want their young people between the ages of 20 and 24 to be either in school or working. If they are neither, they are not acquiring the skills to ensure their future economic autonomy and social inclusion.

With 15 per cent of Canadian youth not in school or working, Canada rates a “B” on this indicator. This means a sizable proportion of young people have not made the transition from formal schooling to work as quickly or as seamlessly as possible. They are leaving school without the skills and experience needed to move into a career path that will ensure lifelong self-sufficiency. Compared with their peers, these youth are at greater risk of unemployment, poverty, and social exclusion throughout their lives.

How did the recession affect youth unemployment?

The recession had a more severe effect on youth than on older workers. The youth unemployment rate in Canada rose from 9.5 per cent in 2007 to 14.8 per cent in 2009. The rate then declined to 12.4 per cent in 2011, but it remains worryingly high compared with the 6.3 per cent unemployment rate for those aged 25 to 64.

Canada’s youth unemployment rate is, however, lower than that of many of its peers, including the U.S., the U.K., Sweden, and Ireland. The recession hit Ireland particularly hard—its youth unemployment rate was almost 34 per cent last year. The proportion of Ireland’s youth that are neither working nor in school was also high—26 per cent. Even for those with post-secondary education, the unemployment rate was 17 per cent.

The OECD notes that the high youth unemployment rate in many OECD countries underscores “the need for countries to examine measures that can productively engage people in this crucial age group, such as vocational education and training programmes and opportunities for non-formal education and training.”1

Youth Unemployment Rate chart

What can be done to improve the situation of jobless youth?

Much policy discussion has centred on what to do about persistently high rates of youth unemployment. Two approaches have been adopted, in varying degrees, in OECD countries over the years; one focuses on increasing participation in schooling, and the other on active labour market programs to help youth find jobs. In addition, programs in some countries target youth experiencing homelessness, drug abuse, or crime.

Recent policies are placing more emphasis on vocational education; the OECD notes that “countries with well-established vocational and apprenticeship programmes have been more effective in holding the line on youth unemployment by smoothing the transition from education to work.”2

Canada devotes less than 0.4 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) to active labour market programs (for all age groups) such as training and skill development, career information, and job search and placement supports. This amount trails most of its peer countries. The link between spending and reductions in jobless youth, however, is not straightforward.

What kind of problems do youth face making the transition from school to work?

Canadian youth face serious challenges when trying to break into the labour market:

  • They may have educational qualifications but lack crucial work experience.
  • They may be stressing their academic achievements at a time when, more than ever, employers are emphasizing appropriate workplace attitudes and behaviours.
  • Canadian youth are staying in school longer, but they are not necessarily entering the labour market with the right mix of skills to succeed.

What about skilled trades?

Employer demand for skilled tradespeople exceeds the available supply in Canada. Unlike some of its peer countries—Germany, for example—Canada does not have a tradition of developing skilled trades. The Canadian education system has tended to promote the acquisition of academic skills, which can be a challenge for youth who do not intend to pursue post-secondary education.

For example, in 2010, less than 6 per cent of upper-secondary students in Canada were enrolled in vocational or pre-vocational programs. The remaining 94 per cent were enrolled in general academic programs. This was the lowest rate of the peer countries for which data are available. In nine peer countries, over half of upper-secondary students were pursuing or vocational or pre-vocational programs.

share of Upper-Secondary Students in Vocational and Pre-Vocational Programs, 2010 chart

From an institutional perspective, skilled trades tend to be considered as an afterthought for those who lack the academic aptitude to pursue the normal course from high school through to post-secondary school. There is little in the mainstream system that encourages young people to pursue skilled trades after high school.

Solving the Skilled Trades Shortage, Ottawa: The Conference Board of Canada, 2002.

Has Canada improved its relative ranking?

Jobless Youth

Canada’s relative grade has been a “B” in the 1990s and 2000s.

Denmark and the Netherlands have been “A” performers in all three decades. Japan and Switzerland have been “A” performers in the 1990s and 2000s. (Data were not available for these countries for the 1980s.) Italy has been a consistent “D” performer.


1 OECD, Education at a Glance 2012: OECD Indicators (Paris: OECD, 2012), 15 (accessed October 25, 2012).

2 OECD, Education at a Glance 2012: OECD Indicators (Paris: OECD, 2012), 323 (accessed October 25, 2012).