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Combating youth unemployment and underemployment

What I would do as a policymaker
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Brian Kreissl

Nine years after the beginning of the Global Financial Crisis in 2008, the job market still hasn’t completely recovered. It’s still very difficult to land a job these days, and many employers don’t seem to be making it any easier.

Things are still pretty challenging for young people in particular these days, with youth unemployment and underemployment still being stubbornly high. Even when young people are able to find a job, we still have the problem of the proverbial university graduate working as a barista in a coffee shop.

While some recent graduates do manage to find stable and meaningful work, for others it can be a major problem. Much of the work that is available is menial, poorly-paid or precarious (part-time, freelance or contract work).

Acting like we’re still in the depths of the recession

Part of the problem is employers still act like we’re in the depths of the recession. They often act like they hold all the cards and have all the power when it comes to recruitment.

Candidates have to jump through hoops to make it through the interview process, and many employers are being so picky it’s almost like no one is good enough for them. Job vacancies sometimes stay open for months on end, and employers are often unwilling to hire candidates lacking all of the skills they’re looking for.

Recruiters and hiring managers these days often look for people who can hit the ground running without having to provide them with any meaningful training. Employers complain about the so-called skills shortage and that recent graduates in particular lack the kinds of skills they’re looking for in new recruits.

This has resulted in a lot of hand-wringing about whether or not high schools, colleges and universities are doing a good job in training workers of the future. Many people now advocate that young people eschew studying humanities and the social sciences in favour of STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Others are starting to question the value of postsecondary education altogether – particularly university.

Just whose fault is the youth unemployment and underemployment crisis? While I don’t want to lay blame, I personally think employers, high schools, colleges, universities and governments – and even young people themselves and their parents all have a role to play in creating and finding meaningful employment opportunities for young people.

Potential solutions for youth unemployment and underemployment

If I were a policymaker, the following are some solutions I would put into place:

  • Expand apprenticeship programs that include on-the-job training and day release classes. This model could even be extended beyond skilled trades into white collar vocations and professions.
  • Provide greater financial incentives for employers to take on apprentices.
  • Create arrangements whereby colleges and universities give academic credit for apprenticeship programs.
  • Make it easier for people to transition from community college to university (and vice versa) through articulation agreements.
  • Require students in all majors to complete at least a minor in a “practical” discipline and provide mandatory courses in the types of skills demanded by employers.
  • Expand co-op programs; provide additional incentives for employers to hire co-op and summer students.
  • Create partnerships between high schools and community colleges so that high school students can obtain dual credit for courses towards both high school and college diplomas/certificates and students graduate high school with practical skills and qualifications.
  • Combine industry certifications with academic courses.
  • Invest in more vocational training in high schools.
  • Develop programs where students earn dual credit and full recognition for courses at college and university.
  • Focus on expanding literacy, numeracy, job skills, financial awareness and life skills among high school students.
  • Promote part-time and summer employment among high school, college and university students.
  • Create more advisory boards for academic programs to ensure relevancy of coursework.
  • Develop an advertising campaign designed to dispel some of the negative stereotypes surrounding young people today.
  • Promote the value of honest work so that young people don’t think of entry level jobs as beneath them.
  • Expand management training programs within organizations.
  • Enhance employee onboarding programs.
  • Provide meaningful training and development opportunities to new recruits.
  • Establish hiring targets for young people in entry level roles.
  • Create meaningful career paths beginning with entry level roles.
  • Return to a situation where “entry level” doesn’t mean five years of experience.

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Brian Kreissl

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.
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