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Governments must continue the urgency to modernize the “antiquated, clunky and exclusive” youth employment support system

May 27, 2020

By: Sarah Vickery

A strong post-COVID economy for all youth is one that leaves no one behind. They are protected from systemic gaps and have access to opportunities to build their skills and pursue a career. To do this, governments must put them at the centre of the public policy-making process. 

Over the Victoria Day weekend, I had the pleasure of participating in the National Youth Webinar on employment and social entrepreneurship, hosted by the Canada Youth Network

Accelerated conversations in the time of COVID

The Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, Carla Qualtrough was also in attendance.

Minister Qualtrough said that the government has accelerated conversations around the value of youth and their contribution to our country.

She said that these conversations would have otherwise taken years to unfold. The minister stressed that these discussions, which could lead to game-changing outcomes in public policy, need to be maintained long after the pandemic passes.

I cannot agree with the Minister more. Since the onset of this crisis, youth have disproportionately bore the brunt of lagging systems change required to support them for a new reality of work.

Improving the social safety net

The social safety net has not kept up with a shifting reality of how youth experience work or employment. Youth have become accustomed to building a livelihood through gig work in this new economy. A critical piece of the conversation going forward has to be: How do we create a system that meets youth where they are in building their livelihoods?

The prompt government response to COVID-19 via CERB, CESB and new job creation, resulted in promising shifts. Although not perfect, these shifts have resulted in real-time government responses to diverse lived experiences of youth in Canada.

During this period of constant change, I have felt a significant shift in what it means to work in a collaborative space. Agencies, government, employers and youth are looking collectively at the system. They are starting to work collaboratively to build back a more inclusive system. A system that ensures young people, especially those who were furthest away from opportunity are not left behind.

Taking action

COVID-19 has forced us to have a conversation that challenges the traditional dialogue of youth employment and the future of work. Minister Qualtrough said that she is keen to continue to revamp our “antiquated, clunky, and exclusive” employment support system.

We cannot lose the impetus of treating the gaps in the youth employment support system as an emergency. For many youth in Canada, and across the world, the employment landscape had changed well before the system had time to adjust.

I believe William Robson from the C.D. Howe Institute summed up the urgent need to support our youth best in this quote from his Globe and Mail Op Ed:

“A whole cohort of young Canadians -400,000 of them every year- are going to enter a labour market where jobs are fewer, and opportunities are rarer, than for any boomer, Gen-Xer or millennial. Milder past recessions have shown that a bad start can leave a scar for a lifetime. That is an imperative on par with the health threat from COVID-19.”

Right now, the numbers are dire. If we are to leverage any silver linings here, it’s the opportunity to rebuild a better youth employment system. The prosperity of our economy depends on the prosperity of our youth.

Sarah Vickery is the Program Manager for Opportunity for All Youth. She infuses all of her work with a deep sense of optimism, creativity, and humility, and starts from an inclusion-first lens.

The Canada Youth Webinar was held on May 17th, 2020. Meghan Brodmann of Common Good Solutions also took part in the discussion.

Watch the full discussion here:

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