This past Monday, September 23, WSIC hosted a vibrant discussion on youth underemployment in Canada. Leading the discussion was Michael Hlinka, a University of Toronto instructor and regular business commentator for CBC, and Julia Deans, CEO of the Canadian Youth Business Foundation. Michael and Julia were joined in the Q&A part of the evening by Leanne Abdulla, a young woman willing to speak openly about her ongoing challenges of finding permanent employment in Toronto.
Leanne is a registered social service worker with two diplomas yet is still working either in part-time employment or in short-term contract positions. She has completed several unpaid internships with the anticipation they would help her get a “foot in the door” of an establishment, but has so far found the market nearly impenetrable.
Julia acknowledged the struggles many youth face today in finding work but also shared her sense of optimism and enthusiasm over the great opportunities available for those seeking help. As Canadians, we are fortunate to have a social safety net that supports a certain amount of risk taking when setting up a new business venture. This is backed by organizations such as the Canadian Youth Business Foundation, which supports innovation through the provision of start-up capital and guidance for young entrepreneurs looking to turn a good idea into a business opportunity. Julia emphasized the importance of finding career mentors and utilizing social networks as important steps in the career building process. Canadian youth should also be prepared to reinvent themselves and consider multiple different roles and work opportunities in the course of their career.
Michael’s talk centered on the economy and how youth should focus their skill set into areas of need. He specifically mentioned that while underemployment exists in certain sectors of our economy, other sectors are currently experiencing a shortage of high quality talent. By way of example, Michael highlighted the shortage of available workers in skilled trades, whereas we currently graduate too many teachers for available positions. Schools and universities promote certain programs without regard to the current job market realities, leading students to make educational choices ill-suited for finding work after graduation. He also referenced the fact that older workers have more perceived value for prospective employers than younger ones because of their experience, and given people are retiring later in life, this creates a new source of competition for Canadian youth starting out in the workforce.
Part of the discussion focused on what role the private sector has in creating the workforce it needs. Michael was of the opinion that companies will hire whoever has the best skill set for a job at the time it becomes available and that market forces will not push private companies to educate their workforce to meet these needs. Julia focused on the idea that people can and should create their own niche value and perhaps consider founding a business and seek support to build a business plan through various Canadian organizations established for this purpose. Her message was a strong one: we have a large untapped pool of highly bright and educated youth who should consider using their talent for business opportunities.
Perhaps Michael’s point of view could be best summarized by his statement that what we need is a vibrant economy. A vibrant economy would provide Canadian youth with better options over where to work and help match youth with an appropriate workplace environment. He also suggested that today’s youth may have become a little complacent rather than risk takers and this may be a contributing cause of today’s underemployment. Julia focused on what her organization is doing to help implement this kind of vibrant economy. By helping youth create new businesses, Canadian society as a whole would benefit from better goods and services, while solving the dilemma of how best to find work for those unemployed.
Michael Hlinka’s and Julia Dean’s opening remarks are below