Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz hit a sore spot and touched off something of a political firestorm this week by suggesting unemployed young people should get up out of their parents’ basements and work for free.
His tone suggested something more than volunteering for community projects and even controversial unpaid internships, as noted in the reaction from student groups, employment activists and politicians. Such was the reaction that even the normally indifferent Conservative government felt the need to join in, with Finance Minister Joe Oliver piping up that he’d like to see more paid work for Canada’s young people.
The Conservatives, under siege on a number of fronts – see the conviction on election fraud charges this week of Dean Del Mastro – are no doubt very much aware an election is just a year away. Unemployment remains high, particularly among young people, and Canadians know full well who let in record numbers of temporary foreign workers (TFWs) under a program that grew from 150,000 such workers in 2006 when the Tories took office to more than 350,000.
The so-called skills gap, a skills mismatch between what employers need and what young people can bring to the table, is a commonly cited cause for lingering high youth unemployment numbers. Growing numbers of people – particularly young people – are unable to find work because they don’t have the right education and training. The problem is expected to get worse as new technology and innovations transform the economy and create increasing demands for a more highly skilled workforce.
Just how the unemployed will acquire new skills and experience remains to be seen, with employers seemingly more interested in hiring temporary foreign workers than providing training and opportunities to Canadians.
There appear to be more barriers to entry into the job market, particularly for jobs that might lead to an actual career path. This is especially true for those young people who drop out of school or who don’t pursue post-secondary education. That’s been a tough route for many years now, but today’s economic climate makes that even more problematic.
Statistics Canada figures for September show that while employment increased by 43,000 among youths aged 15 to 24, the youth unemployment rate was little changed at 13.5 per cent, the result of more youths participating in the labour force. Compared with 12 months earlier, youth employment was up slightly (1.2 per cent).
About 70 per cent of young people working part-time are doing so involuntary, meaning they want to work full-time. Moreover, there’s been a significant increase in the share of young workers in temporary and contract or term employment, from about eight per cent in the late 1990s to just under 12 per cent.
Overall, the message is that governments need to do much more to help young people. Some have benefitted from broader efforts to help the unemployed. But more policies are needed that target young people, especially those with poor education and skills. These “at-risk” youngsters now face the prospect of long-term joblessness and reduced earnings.
As with many low-income workers, young people increasingly find themselves in go-nowhere jobs, often part-time, with low pay, no benefits and no prospects of improvement. While some of these jobs may be adequate stepping stones for students, for those young people most at risk, today’s onramp to the job market can be a dead-end.