Youth had a hard time with employment in 2022, according to the Workforce Planning Board of Waterloo Wellington Dufferin.
Business owners that rely on youth workers in the summer were reporting that they were having trouble finding workers during the pandemic. They requested the board to investigate.
“We have heard that a lot of the food and accommodation, the typical touristy groups, were having some struggles. Last summer, they were for sure. We also heard about issues with day camps and inability to find people to supervise children for the summer. We also heard that sometimes really great jobs like working for the government, like the municipal government, went unfulfilled,” said Charlene Hofbauer, the executive director of the board.
The organization looked to discover if youth were actually engaging less with employment or if it was something that employers were only perceiving. It did so by analyzing information from the Labour Force Survey put out quarterly by Statistics Canada.
According to the study, in 2022 summer, youth ages 15 to 19 in Waterloo Region did actually engage less with employment, Hofbauer noted.
“We found in Waterloo Region that 15 to 19 year olds kind of just decided last summer not to look for jobs at the same level as they had in 2021 – their willingness to work just wasn’t quite there. Don’t get me wrong, there were more of them working than in 2020, but the employment wasn’t super high in comparison to other years.”
The result of the analysis was something of a surprise to Hofbauer, who had thought the trend would be something employers had only perceived, but there was an actual drop in youth engagement. While the reason for this drop is unknown, Hofbauer has some theories.
“I think in 2022, a lot of parents saw what their children had been through, and kind of discouraged work just for a summer,” she speculated. “I’m going to call them kids, but especially in that 15 to 19 year old group, just to let them be kids. Because the 15 to 19 year olds would have been 13 to 17 (before the pandemic), and I think their parents didn’t really encourage them the way they had in the past to seek employment. Maybe it was better for their mental health and their social life to take a summer off. That’s my theory at this point.”
If employers are having a hard time attracting youth to their jobs, Hofbauer suggests they take a look and reevaluate their job, noting young people are looking for something different.
“Look at what you’re offering. If you can connect with any younger people, ask them what they’re looking for in a job and then try and figure out how to market that job to attract the people that you’re looking for.”
Other suggestions include giving youth some time off, even a minimal amount, in the summer.
“Think about some ways maybe you can be flexible. I’m not saying every employer can, but where can you be and would it hurt you to be more flexible on that front? I don’t know what this summer’s going to bring. They might like the idea of taking two or three days and going somewhere with their family, and can you swing that?
“Asking yourself, ‘I know they have to fit for me, but I also have to fit for them.’”
Interestingly, even though there were fewer youth engaged, youth were still reporting higher than normal unemployment, she said.
Hofbauer suggests youth may have had unrealistic expectations.
Her advice for young people seeking a job is to keep expectations realistic and to connect with some of the youth job connection programs that the province runs.
Something else Hofbauer is keeping her eye on is youth aged 20 to 24 who aren’t working. While 80 per cent of this group is working or looking for work, 20 per cent are not.
“They seem to be kind of maxing out at 80 per cent of them participating. Participating means they’re working or looking for work. So I’m wondering what that other 20 per cent is doing. Is that something we will have to watch moving forward as they become 25 to 29 year olds? It feels a little bit like they’re stalling, and so I’m concerned they may struggle in the years ahead,” she said.
And the outlook for this summer? Well, Hofbauer just doesn’t know at this point.
“I’m optimistic that youth will come back, and I’m hoping that the [participation] rates will rise. As we get information, we will share it as quickly as we can to economic development and other business support agencies across Waterloo Region.”