Mike Graham is looking forward to finishing up a college degree next spring.
This will be his third.
His first two post-secondary diplomas – a University of Ottawa degree in political science and another, from the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, in legal studies, left him scrambling for employment and coming up empty.
After graduating with the legal studies degree in 2012, he said, the best he could find was a seasonal gig as a landscape labourer.
“It wasn’t ideal for me because it wasn’t what I was going to school for. I took it as an act of desperation.”
Graham was put on employment insurance in the fall and continued to look for work, with no success.
“I remember seeing [a job ad] for $12 an hour on a job hunting website that looked like it required someone with 30 years of experience to fill it.”
He sought out Ontario’s Second Career program, in the hopes it could help him land his first. That got him started at Seneca College for paralegal studies.
“University gave me a lot of theory, but I didn’t have any employable skills.”
Graham now hopes Seneca will give him the necessary tools to find a sustainable career.
READ MORE: Ontario’s election, in depth
According to Statistics Canada, 15.4 per cent of Ontarians between the ages of 15 and 24 were out of work in April. Individuals between the ages of 25 and 44 had an unemployment rate of 6.8 per cent.
But that figure’s far higher in some pockets of the province: Almost one in five Kingston youth is out of work, and looking; that’s true of 17 per cent of Oshawa youth, and 19 per cent in St. Catharines-Niagara.
With Ontario’s June 12 provincial election fast approaching, youth unemployment has been on the agenda for all three party leaders.
But Graham doesn’t see anything in their platforms that will help him or his jobless peers.
Roxanne Dubois, community chapter coordinator for Unifor, says youth unemployment is definitely on the rise.
“In 2008, around the recession time, we saw a bit of a peak in youth unemployment. It did come down from that, but it did not come down significantly,” Dubois said."We're still at a point where youth unemployment is double the rate of the overall unemployment in Ontario."
Dubois says it’s not a surprise that youth unemployment is highest in areas such as Kingston, Oshawa and St. Catharines.
“[These] communities are traditionally home of the manufacturing industry in Ontario. … There has been 350,000 manufacturing jobs that have basically been lost in Ontario.”
Each of the three parties’ platforms promises more jobs. And each has a different approach when trying to win young people’s votes.
Durham NDP candidate Jennifer French says education is the answer.
“[We] have a plan to access higher education … [with a] freeze on tuition and having interest-free student loans allows more people to access higher education,” French said.
Liberal candidate Esrick Quintyn says over the years, Liberals have invested in the College of Trades to help young people find jobs. He blames the much-maligned federal temporary foreign worker program for taking entry-level jobs that might otherwise go to youth.
“Ontario brings in a lot of foreign workers for the trades that are not being filled by Canadians. And that should be a priority” Quintyn said.
Progressive Conservative incumbent Jerry Ouellette says there are a number of programs available to connect businesses and youth that are not being promoted.
“I created, with the local school board … [a program] where we took high school students in to work on construction sites in order to build a relationship there,” Ouellette said.
“A lot of those individuals are getting the experience to get hired later on through the construction companies they’re working with, which is through the Durham Home Builders Association.”
Graham will be voting in the upcoming elections. He’s still undecided on which party he will endorse.
“With the current information as given, both in party platforms and policy statements during campaigning, there is simply too little to make a decision on yet.”