By Craig Babstock
Young people seeking employment in Ottawa now have a few more options besides flipping burgers and pumping gas.
When Statistics Canada recently released the employment figures for 1998, it announced that the labour market for youth expanded by 143,000 positions, a seven per cent increase, making it the best year in two decades.
But many people aren’t content with this progress, considering that youth unemployment is still the highest among Canadians at 14.4 per cent. In order to give them the job experience they require to avoid becoming a statistic, Youth 2000 was created.
The project was organized by Regional Chair Bob Chiarelli and Ottawa Centre MP Mac Harb, and will be run by Child and Youth Friendly Ottawa, a non-profit organization which works to give young people a voice in the community. The program is encouraging local businesses to create at least one short-term job for young people between now and Dec. 31, 2000. Organizers hope to see more than a thousand people find work under this program in anything from two-month positions to permanent jobs.
Harb’s assistant Christine Hamelin was involved in organizing Youth 2000, and she says mailouts were sent to over 10,000 businesses and organizations in the region. So far, about 300 have expressed interest in participating, including many in Centretown. The 300 businesses feature everything from catering companies to government agencies.
Hamelin says jobs aren’t the only thing being offered. Many businesses are willing to train young people in skills, such as computer programming, to make them more employable.
Anyone under 30 can take part, rega-rdless of whether they are a high school dropout or a university graduate.
“Some jobs will require a degree in computer studies, while another might need strong arms,” says Hamelin.
A database will be created and maintained by Child and Youth Friendly Ottawa containing the names of businesses and job seekers, which will be matched appropriately. Individuals or organizations interested in participating will be able to call or look up information on the Internet when the program is fully operational in a couple of weeks. There will also be counsellors available to help youths discuss employment possibilities.
That the program involves no government money makes it even more attractive.
“People like the fact that it’s not a government program,” says Hamelin.
Businesses receive nothing but a worker, whom they must pay out of their own pocket. Youth 2000 provides a vehicle for potential employers and employees to find one another.
Perma-Temp Personnel Services on Somerset Street is one of the businesses interested in participating. Betty Woodman is the general manager of the hiring agency and she says her company pledged to help out as soon as it was contacted.
“Primarily, what piqued my interest was that it promoted youth employment. I’m certainly an advocate of that,” says Woodman.
In her line of work, she sees as lot of careers started when young people are given the opportunity to step into a position and showcase their talents.
She hopes to provide that opportunity by hiring some people to work at her company, by placing some in positions elsewhere and by showing others how to look for work.
Sparks Street law firm Perley-Robertson, Hill and McDougall also committed to helping Youth 2000. Human resources manager Eileen Saint-Martin says getting a foot in the door is the most important thing when it comes to landing a permanent job.
She says the firm gets hundreds of applications from students wanting to article there, and one of the students recently selected spent a summer with them doing everything from photocopying to making coffee.
“People in the business community have to remember what it’s like to start out,” says Saint-Martin. “And there just isn’t as much opportunity out there these days.”
Elder Marques agrees it’s a tough market to break into. Marques, 20, is a political science student at the University of Ottawa. He recently found a part-time job in his area of interest, but says his situation is rare.
“It’s often difficult finding something related to your field of study.”
He says a lot of people his age have given up on finding work which will provide them with practical experience, but adds that this program might show them no one should settle for working in a department store.
The project is expected to be up and running by the beginning of February.