Earlier this month, the federal government announced it will not open student summer job centres across the country this year — saving $6.5 million — because students prefer to search for jobs on the Internet.
Instead, the government will beef up its online job portal for youth, says Diane Finley, minister of human resources and skills development.
Unfortunately, the job portal part of the site was offline for a full two weeks due to a security issue earlier this year. If the online job bank is meant to replace physical job centres for youth, then this is doubly unfortunate given the timing as most summer jobs are posted early in the new year.
Further, the job bank and career resources provided by the government are disappointing. The job bank has no cohesiveness among municipal, provincial and federal governments, and the resources are a small collection of outdated and mostly irrelevant articles on resumé writing and interviews.
At first, we were extremely disheartened and frustrated the federal government would roll back career services at a time when the youth unemployment rate is above 14 per cent — double the national average — and students are coming out of school with crippling debt.
Add to that the fact many employers hiring for entry-level roles require candidates to have one to three years of relevant work experience.
But then we reconsidered the question: Is it the responsibility or role of the government to provide a job board or youth employment counselling? Simply put — no. The government has no place in career advising, whether online or offline.
Instead, Ottawa’s role should be to support, incentivize, fund and collaborate with for-profit and not-for-profit organizations and institutions whose passions, focus and expertise lie in youth employment to execute these types of services. These non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and businesses are driven by more than just the fear of voter backlash, and their budgets and mandates do not change with every election cycle.
Here’s what we think the government can do, or is already doing well, to support youth employment.
Mandate career education in schools: One of the most important success factors among graduating students is career education and preparation, including career exploration, work placements, co-operative education programs, mentoring and practical job-hunting skills, such as how to write an effective resumé.
All of these should be incorporated into elementary, secondary and post-secondary school curricula in age-appropriate formats that build on core work-related skills each year to help students understand what they want to do, what they’re good at doing, which professions are in-demand and how to successfully navigate the application and interview process.
Better promote government incentives: Various levels of government across the country are doing things to stimulate the economy, provide better access to education and help youth find meaningful paid work, including scholarships, grants, student work programs, wage subsidies and tax breaks.
The problem is the general public often doesn’t know about these initiatives. Television commercials and banner ads on government websites aren’t enough — they need smart and authentic communications strategies that will reach targeted segments of youth and their potential employers through social and digital media, email marketing, relationship-building, content creation and good old-fashioned advertising campaigns.
Encourage employers to hire students and recent graduates from a variety of degree backgrounds: Employers in Canada tend to want to hire students and new graduates from a narrow talent pool — for example, graduating students from the business programs at “top tier” schools. As a result, employers provide fewer training opportunities and thousands of arts and humanities graduates (the largest cohort of university students) are left unemployed or underemployed.
By providing training subsidies and incentives to hire more broadly, the government would encourage employers to add greater diversity to the workforce and provide increased career opportunities for a huge segment of the population that is well-educated and can be trained internally.
Support private sector initiatives that provide career education and preparation for students: The government needs to support for-profit initiatives and the dozens of not-for-profit initiatives that are having a direct impact on youth employment in Canada. We’re helping students and recent graduates find meaningful work and contribute to the economy not because we’re obligated to but because we’re passionate about it and our businesses are driven by doing it.
Part of the role of government is to provide a social safety net. But, in many cases, it does not make sense for the government to actually execute the services that form the safety net. Youth employment is one of those cases.
Regardless of the reasoning, the federal government’s decision to close youth employment centres was a good one if it ultimately chooses to use the savings to focus on what governments are uniquely positioned to do, which is using the resources at their disposal to help other organizations and institutions make society — and the economy — better and stronger for everyone, especially vulnerable groups such as students and recent graduates.
Lauren Friese is the founder of TalentEgg, a Toronto-based company that helps students and recent graduates transition to the workforce. Cassandra Jowett is a content manager at TalentEgg. For more information, visit www.talentegg.ca.