Ontario youth struggle with employment amidst a transitioning labour market
Ottawa-resident, Trang Ho, is 23 years old and has yet to work in a full-time job. Instead, she is pushing employment off by completing her third post-secondary degree, a certificate in Interactive Marketing and Communications from St. Lawrence College.
While Ho’s educational path may seem unorthodox when compared to the expected transition from post-secondary education to full-time work, data recently released by Statistics Canada shows youth face unique challenges when entering the workforce.
In August 2017, Ontario’s overall unemployment rate was at its lowest point since 2001. But however, not all age groups are benefitting. The month’s statistics show young people aged 15 to 24 saw an overall job loss of 33,000, as full-time work for youth decreased by 66,000 in August, while part-time job availability only increased by half that amount.
The challenge to find full-time work is one that students, like Ho, know well.
After completing a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Communications from Carleton University in 2016 and a post-graduate certificate in Interactive Media Management from Algonquin College in April 2017, Ho said she expected to be able to find full-time work in marketing or graphic design.
However, finding a full-time position with her qualifications was difficult.
“My education and skills didn’t match what they were looking for necessarily,” said Ho. “There were full-time jobs out there but I felt like I didn’t have the experience or skills to apply for those positions.”
After struggling to find full-time work, Ho said she ultimately decided to return to school with the hopes that a third qualification will boost her future employability.
While education may be one factor in the youth unemployment dilemma, experts say the complete answer as to why youth struggle to find work, in an otherwise healthy economy, does not have a simple answer.
Four experts weigh in on why youth struggle to find full-time employment in Ontario
Technology and automation
“The increase in part-time work can be attributed to a changing relationship between labour and technology,” said Hashmat Khan, a professor of economics at Carleton University. “With the introduction of labour-saving technology, firms gear production towards automation, substituting the need for full-time workers.”
Khan said many of the jobs undergoing technological transitions are either routine or manual-based work that require less educational or work experience, possibly explaining why Ontario’s youth population has been most directly hit.
According to a study published by the Brookfield Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in 2016 up to “42 per cent of the Canadian labour force is at high risk of being affected by automation” within the next two decades.
The top five jobs listed by the report that are at “high risk of automation” are retail salespersons, administrative assistants, food counter attendants, cashiers and transport truck drivers, while “employees with a high risk of being affected by automation are disproportionately between the ages of 15 to 24.”
From 2014 to 2015, retail employment in Canada experienced a 4.6 per cent decline according to Statistics Canada.
“I think we will see significant changes in the labour market as the interaction of technology with the labour market goes forward,” added Khan.
Changing expectations from employers
Increasing numbers of individuals are highly qualified for positions, according to Creso Sá, a professor of learning and higher education at the University of Toronto.
“We now have a much larger fraction of the population that completes high school and goes into post-secondary,” said Sá.
Accordingly, a university degree is no longer something that makes a candidate stand out. Statistics Canada notes that there has been an upward trend of post-secondary graduates nationally since 2000.
“Employers now differentiate candidates in other ways by expecting higher qualifications for jobs that didn’t used to require such qualifications,” said Sá. “There has been a ratcheting up of the experience needed for entry-level jobs.”
Sá said qualifications such as language skills or advanced computer skills will be increasingly in demand from employers.
With rapidly changing technology and skill sets, Charles Pascal, a professor of applied psychology and human development at the University of Toronto, said education needs to teach young people to be “problem solvers and innovators.”
According to Pascal, universities are not updating their curricula as quickly as needed to adapt to the world of work.
To produce innovative, flexible workers, Pascal said post-secondary institutions need to move farther away from discipline-based study and towards teaching skills that can be beneficial in multiple different job areas.
“We need to perhaps provide students with some form of entrepreneurial training and how they might move on to create their own jobs,” said Pascal. “We need more and more graduates to not only depend on not only filling jobs but creating jobs. We need job creators.”
Despite an unsure future, Timothy Lang, the president and CEO of Youth Employment Services, a Toronto-based employment company that helps youth find full-time work, argues that maintaining and honing soft-skills such as communication and resume-building are equally, if not more important, to the job search.
“Soft-skills will always be a valuable and relevant asset for youth finding work,” said Lang.
According to Lang, most of the skills YES trains people in are considered “soft-skills.” The company provides access to career counsellors, workshops and job postings to approximately 1,000 young people under the age of 29 a month.
While automation threatens job loss in technology friendly areas, Lang said areas requiring soft-skills, hands-on work and communications are worth focusing on.
“We specifically partner with organizations that still require people to do work via customer service, office work, data work or even in a bakery,” said Lang.
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