Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The challenge of youth unemployment and underemployment

Generation Y and the Millennials (those born between around 1980 and the late 1990s) are having to define their own roles in Toronto's economy, to a much greater degree than the Gen Xers did: a shrinking real value of income in terms of actual buying power, skyrocketing housing costs in the city, and poorer employment prospects than have been seen in longer than their short lifetimes, because they are competing with burgeoning numbers of college and university grads in addition to large numbers of recent immigrant professionals and baby boomers who are delaying retirement.

Add to the mix the volume of mixed messages - buy a home! start saving for retirement now! don't lose your competitive edge by working an entry-level job too long! - and it's no wonder that people who are currently in their early 20s to mid 30s are confused, frustrated, and under- and un-employed. Nationally, youth aged 15-24 face 14% unemployment, twice the national average (around 6.5%); in the GTA, the rate is 16.5% or more, around three times the national unemployment rate. Reliable numbers are harder to find for youth aged up to 30, although services like Youth Employment Services will help job seekers up to age 30.

Is it any wonder that the Occupy Wall Street movement caught on in Toronto? Young, educated Torontonians have seen what the generations before them had, and were able to accumulate before they were 30 years old, and none of that is realistic for most of us. When buying a home, finding a permanent full-time job in a stable company, and paying into a group pension, all of which were common for our parents, are out of reach, young people including myself are faced with some uncomfortable realities. The situation doesn't seem fair - hence the protesters - and we are having to create for oursevles a new normal.

Taking additional qualifications beyond a diploma or degree, things like graduate certificates and master's degrees, are becoming part of the new normal. There is as yet no clear evidence that further education helps, except maybe specific professional training. These graduates, paying four and five times as much in tuition fees as their parents did for the same diplomas and degrees, emerge from higher education with even more debt and the same poor prospects. When a young education person can get a job, it is often temporary or part-time, forcing young people to piece together a living, and preventing them from investing in things like property, RRSPs, and even in having families. Additionally, in the long run, employers who are not grooming young people to move up into their companies to fill gaps as Baby Boomers do eventually retire are going to suffer as they lose knowledge and have to make do with staff who are not as prepared as companies might want them to be.

The situation is so serious that young people have had to take matters into their own hands. For example, TalentEgg was started by a Generation Y member who was frustrated with her friends' and her own lack of career opportunities. TalentEgg went so far as to Host 'Hire Gen Y Day' via Twitter!

There is no simple solution to the problem in Toronto. An economist at the Conference Board of Canada argues that majority of unemployed youth aged 15-24 do not have post-secondary education, and that is why they are struggling. My experience suggests that may be true, but vast numbers of young people under 30 who do have post-secondary education are facing massive unemployment and under-employment as well. Starting your career underemployed often means that you will never recoup the loss even over your entire working life - scary stuff - just because you graduated from school in an economically tough decade. That means we may not be able to retire as comfortably as we are seeing our parents do. It is a difficult idea to absorb.

As a career counsellor, and a Millenial, I take the position that, if I cannot expect to enjoy the same kinds of material gainsmy parents had, and I choose to remain in Ontario, I might as well follow my passion and do the work that I love doing. I am available to help people of all ages who are unsure of their career direction to strategize, understand what their passions are, and see how those passions fit into the world of work.

Added June 16, 2012:
For an interesting acronym, PINEs (Poorly Integrated New Entrants), see the CCDA blog: http://ccpacdchapter.blogspot.ca

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