By Judith Maxwell
Canadians can rejoice that the high school completion rates for the population over 15 have soared from 62% in 1990 to 79% in 2010, as revealed in Canada’s Vital Signs. But broad national averages tend to hide the chronic problems faced by young people in Canada in the digital age.
One problem is the chronic underemployment of university graduates and the other is the urban and rural pockets of persistently unemployed young men who did not complete high school. Both reflect flaws in the capacity of our labour markets to generate clear pathways to a good job.
The chronic underemployment of university graduates was highlighted in a report by CPRN and the OECD in 2005. Patrice de Broucker found that one-third of 25 to 29-year-old graduates in Canada were working in low-skill occupations in 2002 – a period when the economy was strong and employment conditions were favourable. Only Spain topped that rate at the time. The other 22 countries in the study reported less than 20% of graduates in low-skill work, mainly because they graduated with more work-related skills.
Since the recession in 2008, graduates have faced extraordinary competition for jobs. They count themselves lucky to get any job. Many are serving in a bar or restaurant, working retail or manning the reception desk for a company or non-profit –not the jobs they were aiming for after university. We told them that if they played by the rules and got a degree, they would have a ticket to a good life. But these are not jobs that develop new skills and these are not employers who can promise a promotion to a good job.
Meanwhile, drop-outs face chronic unemployment and life at the margins of society. These young people are highly concentrated in poor urban neighbourhoods or in rural or remote areas – it’s not unusual to see a neighbourhood population where drop-outs exceed 70%. And the most likely victims are children of recent immigrants and aboriginal Canadians. Dr. Paul Cappon, President of the Canadian Council on Learning, points to the dearth of apprenticeship training programs in high schools. But these young people also experience deep poverty, weak community and parental supports and racial bias – all of which erase any hope of a better life
So we too have our lost generation – young men (mostly) who are not in trades, not in school, not working and without hope. Excellent programs – like Pathways to Education – create hope by overcoming the systemic barriers faced by these young people. And Pathways is now making a difference in 11 communities. Many more communities need to step up to the plate.
Judith Maxwell is an economics consultant and founding President of Canadian Policy Research Networks