- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 12 Feb 1987, p. 267-277
- Charest, The Honourable Jean, Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- Youth unemployment in Canada as a serious economic and social problem, with statistics. The difficulty for many young people to make the transition from school to work. The lack of matching of skills acquired, and skills needed by employers. A recognition of the changes in the global economy which require Canada to become more competitive internationalliy. Costs to the federal, provincial, and municipal governments in unemployment insurance payments, welfare, and remedial youth programs (close to three billion dollars) and long-term costs. The effects of unemployment on youth and society. Changes in the profile and nature of employment, particularly life-long employment, with statistics. Questions and answers of various studies summarized. Where to go from here. Measures to be taken, with a description of programs. Some progress, with much more to be done. Problems with education and the drop-out rate. Factors in society and government affecting education. Potential in relationships between business and schools, with examples. What is needed. What can be learned from past experiences, and from the experience of other countries. The need for commitment and cooperation amongst many societal and government groups.
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- 12 Feb 1987
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"YES, THINGS REALLY HAVE CHANGED"
The Honourable Jean Charest, P.C., M.P.
Minister of State for Youth
Chairman: Nona Macdonald President
Youth is described variously as flaming, fiery, or a flower blooming. The metaphors are endless, and the middle-aged have fantasies about their "salad days"; but youth, great and enviable as it is as a phase in a lifetime, has its own set of problems.
Who, better than our speaker, to know both sides of the coin? He is forever famous as the youngest cabinet minister in the history of Canada. He faces a most difficult assignment.
Jean Charest, 28 on June 30, 1986, was appointed Minister of State for Youth by Prime Minster Brian Mulroney. He obtained his law degree at the University of Sherbrooke in 1980, and is a member of the Quebec Bar Association and the Canadian Bar Association with special interests in civil liberties and criminal law.
In 1984, Mr. Charest was elected Progressive Conservative MP for the Sherbrooke-Lennoxville riding and became Assistant Deputy Chairman of Committees of the House of Commons. He has been Vice-Chairman of the Canada-US. Inter-Parliamentary Group, and, on July 4, 1986, was appoin ted to the Cabinet Committee on Federal-Provincial Relations. Mr. Charest and his wife, Michele Dionne, have one child.
Honourable Jean Charest
According to a recent issue of The Economist, "in another decade, youth unemployment will have vanished:' In making such a statement, The Economist is asserting forecasts based upon economic performance, the demographics of a declining youth population and the combined effects that the passage of time will have on youth unemployment.
So you may ask, why am I, as the Minister of State for Youth, here? I'm here because right now youth unemployment in Canada is a serious economic and social problem. Today some 418,000 people aged 15 to 24 are unemployed. That's an unemployment rate of sixteen percent, almost twice as high as the rate for those over 25.
I'm here because large numbers of young people are experiencing difficulty in making the transition from school to work-their skills don't match employer requirements.
I'm here because we must recognize that the world economy and Canada's competitive position is changing. In turn, the world of work is changing. We want a highly skilled and productive labour force capable of the flexibility necessary to accommodate rapidly changing technology. We want a labour force capable of creating products and providing services that can compete effectively in world markets. Therefore, we must make sure that youth who enter that labour force are ready to compete.
I am not here because there is a lack of willingness or commitment to address the problems of youth. l am not here because the youth of our nation are lazy or directionless, or lost. Nor am I here because of what I believe to be a lack of consensus as to what we should do. And finally, I am not here because I am prepared to wait to find out whether The Economist is right.
We can't afford to allow the mere passage of time and the forces of demographics to address a problem, as they see it, of statistics. The costs are too high.
The present rate of youth unemployment which forecasters at the Economic Council and the Conference Board suggest will continue for at least five years, involves substantial costs to society.
Youth unemployment costs the federal, provincial, and municipal governments close to three billion dollars annually in unemployment insurance payments, welfare, and remedial youth programs. The long-term costs are incalculable.
Social researchers document the devastating effects of unemployment on psychological wellbeing. These include the development of apathy, resignation, self-doubt, depression, lowered self-esteem and fatalities.
You may say there is nothing new here, that this is not just today's problem. To a point, you may be right.
Young people have always been more prone to unemployment than workers in general. Over-all, youth unemployment depends to a great extent on the strength of the economy. During periods of economic growth, employment creation for youth tends to be high, while, during periods of weak growth, youth employment tends to fall disproportionately.
In another way, however, things have really changed. Canada faces new competition. There are new ideas, concepts and realities about the world of work combined with the impact of technology on our labour force.
It is now estimated that individuals entering the work force will change their occupation several times in their career. We must be ready to meet the challenges of this future, and that means that we cannot ignore the realities of our present situation.
I've said that currently 418,000 youth are unemployed. Of these, some 40,000 are likely to find work within the next month. These are the recent graduates, those changing jobs for personal reasons or because of market adjustments. That leaves about 378,000 who will not likely find work within a month. Of these, 60,000 will probably remain unemployed for six months or more. Many, many others will have a series of short-term jobs.
In fact we estimate that, right now, there are probably close to a quarter of a million young people who, although employed, are experiencing some difficulty in establishing a stable labour market attachment.
In this group, women will be slightly over-represented, as will those aged 15-19. Geographic location also affects the risk of unemployment among youth. In Newfoundland, they had an unemployment rate, in January, of 32.5 percent compared to 12.3 percent for those in Ontario.
The unemployment of Native youth in Canada is also particularly acute. Currently, estimates among Native youth are as high as three times those for non-Native youth.
But the most striking characteristic of unemployed youth is their education level. Among those who have been unemployed for six months or more, more than half have not completed high school. The message is clear: get a good education.
Where is the bridge between these problems and the changing shape of our country's future, and what is the best course to follow?
For the last several years, these questions have been asked repeatedly by those examining labour market issues. Their answers have been remarkably similar.
In 1981 the federal Task Force on Labour Market Development, despite an optimistic view of employment prospects in Canada, recommended that more emphasis be placed on easing the transition for youth in general and severely unemployed youth in particular.
Also, in 1981 the Parliamentary Task Force on Employment Opportunities for the '80s recommended the development of special programmes designed to help potential dropouts.
In 1985 the Royal Commission on the Economic Union and Development Prospects for Canada (MacDonald Commission) recognized the importance of facilitating the transition of those students who choose to leave school either before or immediately after the acquisition of a secondary school graduation diploma.
Also in 1985 the report of the Special Senate Committee on
Youth and the New Democratic Task Force on Youth proposed programmes to assist youth in making the transition from school to work.
A 1985 discussion paper by the Business Council on National Issues recommended that labour market information be improved, better skill training be provided, and labour market mobility encouraged to facilitate the transition from school to work.
In 1986 the Report of the Newfoundland Commission on Employment and Unemployment (House Report) stated that "The Commission believes that special initiatives are needed to deal with the youth unemployment problem." Also in 1986 the Report of the Commission of Inquiry on Unemployment Insurance called for a comprehensive programme that would allow young school dropouts to attain education, skills and work experience.
And, late last year the Ontario Youth Commissioner, Ken Dryden, again focused public attention on the plight of unemployed young Canadians and the need to assist them in gaining access to the labour market.
So, where do we go from here?
We take up the challenge that the Youth Commissioner put so articulately and passionately to this country, and to its governments. He called for a commitment to the goal of full youth employment.
If ever the time was right to act, it is now, when we have a national consensus. And the consensus is clear.
Canada needs a set of instruments in place to enable all youth to make the transition from school to full participation in a highly productive labour force capable of adjusting to technological change and to competition in world markets.
The measures required for a successful transition include pre-employment preparation and information, career counselling, training and work experience.
The introduction of the Canadian Jobs Strategy by the Progressive Conservative Government in 1985 represented a significant step in that direction. It recognized the connection between training and economic performance and put in place a solid infrastructure supporting training activities that permitted broad access by both individuals and employers.
Youth represent a significant proportion of the clientele of all components of the Canadian Jobs Strategy. For the Job Entry component they are the sole clientele. The Job Entry programme combines academic upgrading, job readiness training, employment-specific skill development and work experience placements to enhance the employment opportunities for youth.
When we set up this programme, we wondered whether youth would be interested, because no wage is offered, only a modest allowance. But there are plenty of young people who are anxious to get into a programme offering them a realistic chance to break out of marginal employment.
Ontario's Job Futures Programme is very similar. Although both programmes are relatively recent, early assessments indicate they are experiencing very high success rates. Most of those who enter the programme complete the training course and are successful in finding employment.
For youth, another interesting feature of the Canadian Jobs Strategy is its capacity to fund innovative solutions and to test new approaches to labour market issues. Many of the proposals that have been received relate to entrepreneurship.
There seems to be a growing awareness among Canadians in general and youth in particular of the economic and employment potential of entrepreneurial activity.
For example La Presse of Montreal reported that a survey shows that more than half of university students in Quebec expect to work for themselves. And well they should. Small and medium businesses have been largely responsible for Canada's enviable reputation for job creation over the last decade. Many youth have the energy and imagination to enter this field but need some training and support to get started.
With this in mind, my department just contributed ten million dollars to establish Youth Enterprise Centres in nine cities across Canada. And I am pleased to be joined today by
Dian Cohen, who is the chairperson of the National Advisory Board for Youth Enterprise Centres.
The development of the centres, which will assist youth in creating employment for themselves and additional jobs for others, was sponsored by YMCA Canada. They provided their facilities and staff resources and through their community connections gained the participation of the private sector. That's a beginning, but 1'd like to see more efforts in this area.
I am also very pleased with the work being done to develop Youth Employment Services (YES Canada) across Canada. I would particularly like to acknowledge the invaluable support of two gentlemen who are here today at the head table: Robert Fleming and Rick Curd.
This programme uses a motivational and corporate out- ' reach approach to increase the labour force attachment of disadvantaged youth. It was developed by a Toronto group and received partial funding from my department in the amount of $2.9 million. As a result, over the next two years, by working together we will help to prepare between 1,000 and 1,250 disadvantaged youth for entry-level jobs.
Another area that has considerable potential is that of apprenticeships. This approach, which has been a particularly effective means of facilitating the transition from school to work in West Germany, has not acquired the scope in Canada that it has in Europe.
The concept deserves closer examination in the Canadian context. In response to federal Government pressures, federal-provincial reviews of the apprenticeship programme are under way. I expect to have the results soon.
We are making progress, but a lot remains to be done. We can't afford to abandon our efforts to bring down the deficit, so there is very little new money available. The only viable solution is to ensure that we spend our money wisely. Where and how do we intervene to gain the greatest payoff? High school dropouts are an obvious focus of attention.
Despite the high correlation between educational attainment and employment opportunities, 100,000 youth fail to complete high school annually. In terms of the youth population, that means that about one-third of all youth in Canada do not finish high school.
Why should this happen? As a country we place a very high value on education. Our per-capita investment in public education is among the highest in the world.
One reason is that many of our young people lack labour market information. They leave school largely unaware of the risks associated with attempting to enter the labour market. l intend to take every opportunity to make them aware of the risks and, where possible, to work with the provinces to help encourage potential dropouts to stay in school. Even high school completion is no assurance of success in the labour market. Youth must have the skills that the marketplace requires if they are to succeed.
Improving the availability of counsellors and counselling tools is one approach. And we take this seriously. For example, for 13 years now, my department has hosted a national conference of vocational counsellors. We also produce publications such as Job Futures, which provides data on the expected availability of jobs in selected fields, and software packages such as the one called Choices, which offers students help in identifying potential employment areas of interest.
Another publication we offer is the Hot-100.1 am very excited about this new publication, because it will serve as a guide to the more than 100 federal programmes and services for youth financed by the federal government. Now available to counsellors, teachers and libraries and youth across Canada, it is a comprehensive inventory of all that the federal Government is doing for youth and it is free.
But I think the issue is more fundamental. Compared to West Germany, France and the U.K., education, training and industry in Canada are relatively isolated activities. I'm not the only person worried about this. There are several provincial initiatives that will be examined, but the separation remains very real.
This split is, in part, unavoidable as the Constitution gives the provinces jurisdiction over education and the federal government jurisdiction over national economic policy. As well, through the 1960s and 1970s we had become complacent as a relatively buoyant economy created enough new jobs. There was no reason for business to build links with the education system and the education system had no responsibility for placing its graduates, let alone its dropouts.
Both levels of government were relatively affluent and, since the market was working, there was little apparent need for special government initiatives, let alone for initiatives involving strong co-operative and co-ordinated efforts by governments and business. Growth seemed to be taking care of our problems. But the recent recession changed that.
Unemployment rose, particularly among youth. But, ironically, business began to experience difficulty in hiring qualified young people.
There is more competition for jobs. Business is beginning to make its needs known in a general way by raising the gradelevel requirements for entry-level jobs. Current studies by the Business Task Force on Literacy indicate that industries are increasingly identifying grade 12 as a prerequisite for entrylevel jobs in mining, manufacturing, automotive and retailing and grade 10 and 11 for apprenticeship trades. Yet some 300,000 of your youth lack basic literacy skills.
This demand for higher skill levels can be expected to continue as Canada struggles to improve its competitive position internationally. I don't need to emphasize to you the importance of the challenge when one in every three jobs in Canada, an estimated three million, is directly related to exports and the European Management Forum's Competitive Report ranked Canada tenth in the adequacy of vocational training and tenth in flexibility of the labour force to retrain out of twenty-two countries.
As a result of this increased pressure, there are more cases in which direct relationships between business and schools are developing. Co-operative education involving work terms while at school is one approach that has been in place for some time.
In Calgary, an experiment is under way whereby local businesses "adopt" local schools. In this way, potential employers have some influence on the curriculum and students learn how businesses operate, what job opportunities exist and the skills they require.
Although it is too early to assess, this particular experience in some American cities is extremely encouraging. I might add the idea seems particularly suited to a highly diversified city such as Toronto.
Greater effort and imagination is necessary in order to develop other creative approaches. The role of organized labour should not be disregarded. They, as much as employers, are in a position to make youth aware of the advantages and disadvantages of particular employment choices.
Other countries are also struggling with the question of how best to help youth make the transition from school to work. What can we learn from their experiences?
West Germany, for example, has long had in place an extensive occupational training system, similar to an apprenticeship arrangement, which combines formal education with onthe-job training. This system, which covers approximately 940 occupations, has been effective in managing the schoolto-work transition for a large proportion of German youth-1.8 million youth participate in it now.
Its success is due to the co-operative efforts among employer associations, chambers of commerce and labour unions. The role of the central government has been almost exclusively to create an environment in which such cooperative efforts flourish and to mend any cracks that develop in the system.
The Swedish approach is somewhat different. Their basic premise is that society has a responsibility for the progress of young people during the transition from school to work. Their programmes provide young people up to the age of twenty with full-time secondary education, or vocational training, or work in a special youth job.
Although initially the emphasis in Sweden was mainly on finding temporary jobs for young people who left the school system, the current trend is to place greater emphasis on basic education and specific training. In fact, young people are increasingly being encouraged to return to school.
The German and Swedish experiences cannot be transplanted to Canada, given the differences in our societies. But I draw one key lesson: they depend for their success on a national commitment that involves governments, business and unions.
I could go on at some length describing the approaches of Britain or Australia, both of which have adopted comprehensive strategies to address the difficulties experienced by youth in entering the labour market. But I think I've made my point.
It is not the specifics of these programmes, although these too are interesting, that makes them work; it is the commitment and co-operation among all sectors of the societies.
I am convinced that, in general, youth have the motivation to take advantage of opportunities. Our challenge is to develop these opportunities for our youth and together with them.
In closing, let me remind you that fifteen months ago Governor General Jeanne Sauve championed the cause of youth here in this forum. She stressed that we must challenge youth to take the responsibility for their future into their own hands, and that we must provide them with the means and opportunities to do so.
We are beginning to meet that challenge. Let us continue to build.
The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Blake C. Goldring, a Director of The Empire Club of Canada.