Falling through the cracks

Youth especially hard hit by economic downturn
By Sarah Dobson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 06/15/2012

In the fall of 2011, Cannery Brewing Company in Penticton, B.C., was looking to hire a microbiologist but couldn’t afford it, especially in the slow season.

So it signed on with the province’s Get Youth Working Program — where employers receive a hiring incentive of up to $2,800 and $1,000 for training — and was able to hire Scott Taylor.

A microbiology graduate from the University of Victoria, Taylor had worked seasonally for the Black Ball Ferry Line in Victoria but now works full time at Cannery.

“The hours were shut down at the ferry, there wasn’t much work there so I was about out of money and all my student loans were piling up, so it was perfect,” said Taylor.

The Get Youth Working program was a pilot that started in January 2011 and saw 650 youth find employment for at least the three-month probationary period. It has just been renewed for another year and is expected to help 900 people find jobs, according to Susan Sambol, director of marketing and communications at Bowman Employment Services in Vancouver, which works with the program.

“It’s really a program that looks at youth who often fall through the cracks because they don’t have experience and employers are reluctant to hire them,” she said. “This program is helping them to land those jobs and get that bit of experience that will then be able to take them further in their careers.”

And youth certainly need the help, judging by several reports. The percentage of unemployed people aged 15 to 24 has increased in Canada following the recent economic downturn — from 11.8 per cent in April 2008 to 13.9 per cent in April 2012, according to Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey.

The overall rate of youth neither in education nor employment (NEET) also increased in Canada while there have been significant decreases in the employment rates of students under 20 and non-students under 30, according to the May 2012 Statistics Canada report Youth Neither Enrolled Nor Employed.

There is a “profound incongruity” between the optimistic career projections for gen Y and the labour market reality, according to a May 2012 report from the Canadian Career Development Foundation in Ottawa that looked at the growing number of poorly integrated new entrants (PINEs) who have diplomas or degrees but can’t find solid employment.

“On one hand, there are reports of significant skills shortages across many economic sectors and, on the other hand, a growing population of youth who are having significant challenges integrating into the labour market,” said Transitioning Graduates to Work. “PINEs are particularly worrisome because they are graduates and, theoretically, should be employable and contributing to Canada’s economic prosperity.”

Global picture bleak

In looking at global reports, the prospects also look dim. Youth continue to bear the brunt of the jobs crisis, with nearly 11 million out of work in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries in early 2012, according to an OECD report. More than one-fifth of young people in France, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Poland, Ireland and Italy are out of work, and youth unemployment is at 51.1 per cent in Spain.

There is concern a significant amount and growing proportion of youth are at high risk of prolonged unemployment or inactivity, said OECD, which will likely hurt their entire careers and livelihoods.

Nearly 75 million youth are unemployed around the world — an increase of more than four million since 2007, according to a report from the International Labour Office (ILO). As a result, many have given up the job search altogether. In developed economies, youth are increasingly employed in non-standard jobs and the transition to decent work is postponed, according to Global Employment Trends for Youth 2012.

The long-term unemployment rate for Canada’s youth is significantly lower than that of other G7 countries as Canada had the second lowest rate for youth aged 15 to 29 who are NEET in 2011, at 13.3 per cent — 5.7 per cent unemployed and 7.5 per cent not in the labour force — with the remainder students (43.7 per cent) or employed (43 per cent), said the Statistics Canada report.

However, those who work on the front lines of youth employment say the situation has worsened. Unemployment is “absolutely” increasing and young people are taking longer to find jobs, said Nancy Schaefer, president of Youth Employment Services (YES) in Toronto. Typically, people take three to five weeks to find work — now it’s five to six months.

“Their morale’s terrible,” she said. “We’re seeing a lot of frustration, a lot of hopelessness. There’s some anger because they want to blame somebody else because they’re doing everything right. Mostly they’re losing motivation.”

Youth are willing to be trained and are flexible, but the jobs aren’t there, said Schaefer.

“It’s certainly not good for our economy — we need bright, young, creative ideas in the labour market,” she said. “There’s certainly a lot of concern around earnings potential in the future — these are kind of lost years for them when they’re underemployed or living at home.”

Some youth are also deciding to go back to school or stay in school longer, said Schaefer.

“But, if they’re doing that, it’s more out of desperation,” she said, adding they will graduate with much steeper debt.

Youth have greater challenges today, said Matt Wood, Toronto-based executive director at First Work, an association of youth employment centres and agencies in Ontario.

“We’re seeing a lot more stress-related troubles, whether these are diagnosed or undiagnosed mental health issues, and young people are seeming much more disheartened by the job search. It’s… taking a toll.”

To cope with the absence of good job prospects, many young people have taken part-time jobs that might help pay the bills but don’t advance their careers very much.

“They may have jobs but they’re underemployed and hoping for something better. (They) may be in school but their heart isn’t necessarily in what they’re studying,” he said. “The holding pattern that many youth put themselves into is a very reasonable response to a poor labour market.”

There are a number of barriers facing the integration of new graduates, according to Transitioning Graduates to Work. More of them are stuck in entry-level jobs as rising numbers of post-secondary graduates drive up the qualification standards, creating a growing, underemployed class of graduates.

During a recession, youth are hit hard because of the last-in, first-out phenomenon at workplaces. Stereotypes around generation Y are also putting employers off in terms of hiring youth, said the report.

While part-time work during post-secondary education helps with the school-to-work transition, the 2008 recession has made it harder for students to find such employment. And there is no consistent model of career services or national youth school-to-work strategy in Canada, which is critical to support the integration of new entrants to the labour market, said the report.

The federal government has “abandoned youth” in transferring a large number of all-ages employment programs to the provinces while retaining its own youth employment strategy programs, said Wood. Ontario, for example, had a robust youth-oriented program called Job Connect that was effectively cancelled, he said.

“We were serving over 300,000 youth in a whole year… and that was having a major impact.”

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