Feds open panel exploring youth employment in Canada

Chaston Dustyhorn (right) and Cory Alexson (left) look for potential jobs Friday at Saskatoon's White Buffalo Youth Lodge. Tyler Schroeder / Global News

OTTAWA – The chairwoman of a new federal panel on youth unemployment says the country could see economic and social ripples in the future without a clearer picture about where and how young people are failing in the labour market.

Vass Bednar says a better understanding of why some young people can’t get their foot in the door, or find relevant job experience, will be key to understanding whether Canadians will be able to afford a house in the future, or even afford the rent in six months time.

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It could also give a better idea of whether some youth are delaying starting a family, worried that they can’t afford child care, said Bednar, currently the associate director of the cities research program at the University of Toronto’s Martin Prosperity Institute.

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Bednar said there are no clear answers to helping more young people find jobs – there are different issues facing urban and rural youth, as well as unique barriers for indigenous youth. All this makes the panel’s work that much more challenging.

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“Our panel doesn’t come with all the answers,” said Bednar, a former senior policy adviser to the Ontario Liberals. “No one has written a paper or an op-ed (that says), ‘Hey, this is what we need to do for youth in Canada.’

The panel officially opened on Monday.

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The group will sift through statistics, hold consultations and meet young people and experts to figure out what the federal government can do, in tandem with provincial and territorial governments, to help millions of youth already in, or set to enter the job market.

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The job numbers for August showed the youth unemployment rate was little changed at 13.2 per cent. Employment dropped by 48,000 from August 2015 as the population for the age group dropped by the same amount.

The youth unemployment rate in Canada is almost double the national average and has been that way since the 2015 election campaign when the Liberals promised to create 125,000 jobs annually for young people by spending $1.5 billion over four years on a youth employment strategy.

Federal statistics project that over the next decade there will be almost six million job openings in the labour force. The data show officials estimate there will be 5.8 million projected job-seekers, including just over five million coming out of school.

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Bednar said the panel is going to look at whether graduates are leaving school with the skills they need to be employed, or whether the meme of a English literature graduate working as a Starbucks barista is true.

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An interim report will be out by the end of the year and a final report to Labour Minister MaryAnn Mihychuk is due by next March.

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