June 28, 2017

New employment strategy for youth falls short

The Expert Panel on Youth Employment was established in 2016 to examine the barriers youth face when finding and keeping jobs. This month, the Panel released its final report that outlines 13 recommendations for the federal government to transform the youth employment system.

The Canadian Federation of Students welcomes several recommendations presented in the report, including the Panel’s focus on the barriers experienced by youth from marginalized communities and the call to end unpaid internships. The Federation also welcomes the Panel’s acknowledgement that today’s youth are better educated and willing to work, dispelling the myth that a lack of motivation and skills gap are the key factors affecting youth unemployment.

Overall, however, the Panel’s report fell short. It failed to recommend bold federal action to address rising student debt, discriminatory practices in federally-regulated workplaces or any proposals to address today’s climate crisis through a new era of green jobs. Instead, the Panel’s proposals stay within the parameters of the federal Youth Employment Strategy (YES) program.

The Panel’s report acknowledges the impact of student debt, stating that younger Canadians are “‘squeezed’ by stagnant incomes, high costs, less time and significant debt.” But any youth job strategy must include ways in which the federal government can reduce the levels of debt that burden young people as they enter the job market. It should also have an interest in helping create the kind of good jobs that will enable a sustainable and vibrant economy.

To make that happen, ambitious reforms to Part III of the Canada Labour Code are necessary. Young workers would benefit from a higher federal minimum wage, more predictable workplace scheduling, a “card check” process for unionization, a ban on the use of replacement workers during strikes or lockouts and more provision for sick days and emergency leave. But on these issues, the Panel is silent. While it talks about improving “workplace standards,” there are no specific proposals beyond the abolition of unpaid internships (and it calls for reviewing this idea after two years).

The Panel recommends that the federal government enhance YES to better target youth who need it most, including youth who are racialized, Indigenous, have disabilities or are living in poverty. To do this, however, the Panel recommends using a “client-centered approach.” This approach serves to individualize the barriers youth from marginalized communities experience rather than offer solutions to combat the systemic forms of oppression that result in these disproportionate rates of un- and underemployment. Addressing these barriers requires recommendations that move beyond tinkering with the efficiencies of YES.

Lastly, there is a disappointing absence of any discussion of the opportunity for increased green jobs in a youth jobs strategy. As the Panel notes, there are currently 427,000 youth “not in education, employment or training.” Federal subsidies for green jobs sector could allow for these youth to be part of growing the next energy economy.

The full report is available here.