After five months and more than 200 job applications, Vanessa Lewis was finally hired as a field operations specialist at an aerial infrared inspections institute. Lewis held this position for six months before being laid off in early September. 

“I had a spreadsheet going where I would take notes of applications that I would want to apply to in the future if I was too tired to apply for them at the time. It was like a full-time job honestly,” Lewis said.  

Lewis is one of many young Ontarians struggling to find work.

An analysis of Statistics Canada’s most recent Labour Force Survey shows Ontario residents aged 15 to 24 are facing an unemployment rate of 11.7 per cent. After Atlantic Canada, Ontario has the second highest unemployment rate in the country for this age group. Ontario’s unemployment rate sits at six per cent, the fifth-highest rate in Canada.

During her job search, Lewis found that many job postings advertised as entry-level required prior experience. 

“I don't think it makes much sense. I think that as long as you have education in the field that you are looking to work in that should be enough, ” Lewis says, “It's not sustainable. There are so many people who are struggling to look for work.”  

For Lewis, securing the field operations specialist position was a dream come true as she had the opportunity to exercise her knowledge. But when the company experienced financial issues and underwent a merger, many people lost their jobs. 

“They laid off about half the company, it was a big surprise to everyone. They let go of a lot more junior people so I was included in that bracket,” Lewis said.   

Younger workers are often the first to go when employers face financial hardships because they lack seniority and experience, Simon Black, a professor at Brock University’s Labour Studies department, says. And finding a new job after being laid off can be difficult because of a lack of opportunities.

Countries with higher employment rates for young people often have strong apprenticeship and work placement programs, Black said. In Ontario, youth employment programs have a more “scattered approach,” he added. 

“There are programs for youth that are run by or operated by various ministries and partnerships with different sectors or industries,” Black said. “But we could be making much greater use and building much stronger apprenticeship and workplace assistance for young people.” 

Robert Wharram, career development manager at the Career Services office in Carleton University, says he has observed trends that reinforce the idea that stronger employment programs for youth and students can be beneficial. 

“[Working while studying] makes you a better employee and can actually improve your mental health,” Wharram said. “It makes you more accountable, better at time management skills and builds your social and employment networks.” 

A survey conducted by Wharram’s office seems to back this up. The survey found that 84 per cent of respondents said that having a career goal reduced their stress. 

Unemployment rates for Ontarians aged 15 to 24 is on the rise. In 2022, unemployment seemed to recover to pre-pandemic levels but this year has seen that trend change.

As unemployment for young people creeps up, many students — such as third-year psychology student Emma Canning — are beginning their search before graduating.

Canning says she does not feel prepared to enter into the job market full-time. Warnings from her professors have made her concerned about the competitive atmosphere into which she will graduate. 

“It's very stressful thinking I could get out of this degree that I paid for and worked hard for and go back to the jobs I had in high school,” Canning said. “Before, it used to be that you would get a degree and you have this job you would work for and now it's just not guaranteed at all.” 

Even if Canning finds a job, she may end up in a similar situation as Vanessa Lewis, who was laid off when her company hit hard times. 

“I think a lot of people are in the same boat as me,” Lewis said. “They are trying to get work in their fields but it’s tricky, so they're trying to find other ways to stay employed.” 

Despite the recent setback, Lewis is continuing her job search with little luck. 

“I have been applying to a lot of jobs in Toronto, which is where I currently live, and a lot of things have been up in the air for me lately,” Lewis said. “Opportunities do not exist as they used to in the past.”