A friend recently texted me about her employment search and she said “Honestly, it is really tough right now. It’s quite sad. And this is in Toronto. I can’t imagine how people in other places must be suffering with such high unemployment rates everywhere especially amongst young people. It’s hard not to blame oneself but the problem is much greater”. She is a young highly educated Latina woman that is one of the most committed employees and hard workers I have known. And her struggles tell us a great deal about the labour experience for youth in Canada. Although this blog entry may not be captivating or particularly compelling, I do believe it is necessary. Canada’s youth unemployment rate is low in comparison to other capitalist countries. In recent OECD polling Canada was ranked second to last in having the lowest unemployment rate for youth, right behind Germany. Yet, there is a crisis brewing, and it has already begun to boil over in Greece, Spain, Turkey, England, etc. Youth unemployment is a global issue and Canadian youth are not immune from the growing crisis of unemployment. There is nothing unique about the Canadian economic system that will prevent an increase in youth unemployment. Rather, Canada’s capitalist system will inevitably lead to greater unemployment and mostly precarious employment for youth and future generation. During my research I noticed there was little to describe what particular policy was affecting funding and development of youth employment in Canada. This description is to help people understand Canada’s youth policy and hopefully apply in future written and community work.
Youth unemployment has always been an issue in developed nations and the global south, yet the issue and response to youth unemployment has garnered wide spread attention since levels increased in Western states. The crisis of youth unemployment for many of the most marginalized people with Western states, like immigrants, people of colour, women, and people with disabilities, has long gone unacknowledged by governments and the international communities. Yet, with greater increases of youth unemployment in Western states it means that people with wealth and people expecting job security there interests begin to be harmed and there is then a call to the state to address employment disparities. In response to the issue of youth unemployment the Canadian Federal government created the Youth Employment Strategy (YES). This paper strives to provide clarity on how public policy works which can help to explain how who policy benefits and who does not benefit. The rest of this paper will describe the history, composition, stakeholders, associated policies, and responses to the Canadian governments YES policy.
The Canadian government created the YES policy because there wasn’t a Federal structure that specifically addressed youth unemployment in Canada. There are employment initiatives at the provincial and municipal level such as: the Toronto Youth Strategy; Vancouver’s Civic Youth Strategy; Ontario’s Youth Opportunities Strategy; Alberta’s Youth Employment Strategy; British Columbia’s Youth Policy Framework; and the Quebec Youth Policy. Because various youth policies existed, the federal government decided to take action by creating a funding scheme for different organizations in various provinces. The government generally described their motivations to create the YES policy to increase youth in the workforce, provide transitions for youth from school to the workforce, and to encourage the development of growing industrial sectors (Canada, 2012).
In recent years the increase in international attention on youth unemployment has put pressure on some Western states to institute federal youth employment plans. Although, the federal government prides itself in saying that Canada has the second lowest youth unemployment rent in OECD nations, many have argued that this dispels the actual reality of youth in Canada. Firstly, the United Way showed through descriptions from youth and front line workers that around 1.5 million youth struggle to find employment in Canada and that a large section of the employment that youth have is temporary, non-unionized, and precarious (Kamara, 2008). For youth un(der)employment results in a lack of job security, benefits, and pension systems and makes their income and livelihood insecure. Kamara (2008) and Francis Fong (2012) also noted that the measure of Canada’s youth unemployment rates are relative to others and argue that there is still a crisis in Canada even if the numbers are low comparatively. Francis Fong (2012) showed using a statistical analysis “that the total employment of young workers reached its lowest point since 2002”. With the economic recession in 2009 the numbers of unemployed and precariously employed have steadily increased with only a few years where the unemployment numbers decreased slightly
Youth Employment Strategy: A Description
The Youth Employment Strategy is a Canadian federal policy that was instituted in 1997 by the Liberal Party of Canada led by Jean Chretien (Canada, 2012). The United Way (2008) describe the Youth Employment Strategy as a Risk Prevention and Resiliency Approach policy. Meaning that the policy focuses on providing youth with skills and options to reduce the risk of becoming unemployed. In comparison to other policy approaches, a risk prevention policy does not attempt to address societal factors that affect youth unemployment, like poverty, gender and racial disparity, debt accumulation, or geographic location. Ultimately, the YES employment policy tries to get youth into trades and skills to expand their employment experience, rather than address overarching societal oppressions. The YES employment policy operates as an investment policy for the state, meaning that the state will provide funding to organizations that will predominantly place youth into temporary positions or in growing industries, such as natural resource extraction. The Human Rights and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) took on the lead role of monitoring and dispensing funds to different organizations that apply for funding. Simply, the YES is a funding umbrella for organizations that provide services to youth. The government initially put 315 million dollars into creating the program in 1997. In 2012, the Conservative government pledged an extra 50 million dollars over two years to the YES budget.
The YES policy is described as a horizontal initiative, because it involves eleven federal departments and agencies: Canadian International Development Agency; Environment Canada; Human Resources and Skills Development Canada; Industry Canada; National Research Council Canada; Natural Resources Canada; Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada; Canadian Heritage; Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada; Parks Canada. The HRSDC and YES employment staff distributes money to the eleven different agencies and individual organizations that apply to the HRSDC. Each year the Minister of Labour launches a call in September for funding proposals from agencies that are not connected to the eleven government departments (Canada, 2013).
In 2003, the government made significant changes to the Youth Employment Strategy “to address overarching concerns of youth entering the labour market” (HRSDC, 2009). Due to criticism, the YES focused on providing more funding and relationships with agencies that focused on skills development and address barriers to employment. Primarily, the YES policy provides funding to organizations that increase skills development and gets youth into skilled trades. Organizations can apply for funding from three different program streams: Skills Link, Career Focus, and Canada Summer Jobs. The changes in 2003 resulted in the formation of the Skills Link stream, which attempts to assist people that face barriers to employment. Skills Link provides funding to initiatives that are focused on employing: single parents; people of Aboriginal descent; persons with disabilities; recent immigrants; youth who live in rural or remote areas; and youth who have dropped out of high school. The Career focus stream provides funding to organizations that offer opportunities for youth that have completed some level of post-secondary studies. The final stream, the summer work experience or Canada Summer jobs stream, offer full-time registered students that will be returning to school in high school, college, or university employment opportunities during the summer months (Canada, 2013). Approximately the Canada Summer Jobs have employed 236,000 youth since the origination of the program in 1997. In two years, when the budget of the Youth Employment Strategy will be reviewed again by the Federal Government it is expected that the HRSDC will conduct a self-evaluation of the YES program to see whether the goals of the program have been accomplished. Currently the YES program has a $300 million dollar annual budget, and receives applications on an on-going basis.
Responses to the Policy
The Human Resources and Skills Development Canada employed the management consultants Goss Gilroy Inc. to conduct an evaluation of the YES program in 2009. The evaluation was the first extensive look at the program since changes occurred to the policy in 2003. Due to it not being an independent and external evaluation most of the findings were positive and it was declared the program has been generally successful in reaching its goals of employability and assistance for youth. Some areas that were of concern in the report were the gender disparity of success for participants in the program. The HRSDC concluded that when men entered the Career Focus and Skills Link streams that men tended to increase their incomes from employment, and women generally received a lower income after participating in the program. The report does not offer any substantive or critical insight on how to address the gender disparity or why a gender disparity in salaries and incomes exists in national employment levels.
Traditionally the program focuses on funding programs that will give youth experience in growing sectors, such as skilled trades in the natural resource and extraction industries. The self-evaluation proposed that there should also be funding for employment areas that are struggling financially and have a labour shortage. Finally, the report responded to critiques of the organization and management of YES that have been made by opposition political parties, media, and community agencies. The evaluation report declared that there needed to be a more comprehensive management and monitoring system to explain where and how the money from the YES program is being distributed (Canada, 2009). The report said there would be an online timetable to explain where the money was being allocated, however, I could not find any trace of the reporting system other then it being mentioned that it would be formed in the near future. During my own review of the policy, I could not access any information on which organizations received funding and how much funding they received. The lack of information made it difficult to definitively define who are the benefactors of youth YES, the stakeholders, and where the money actually goes. Lastly, there were no propositions of how monitoring or management of which programs and populations receive funding from YES funding.
In reviewing news articles on the YES policy, the majority of responses criticized the policy initiative. In the policies early stages in the late 90’s and early 2000’s people criticized the policy for only focusing on youth that were in school and not addressing youth that have dropped out or face other systemic oppressions. The criticism comes from that the majority of the budget is invested in assisting people with formal education in college or university rather than people who have dropped out of school and face systemic oppression like gender, race, and poverty. As time progressed and the YES employment policy was reviewed, the negative criticisms continued. Reporters from papers like the Toronto Star and Huffington Post said that the program offers funds and resources for the youth that are not in the greatest need of help. The Huffington Post reported, “the more serious problems relate to the lack of capability to monitor the program to ensure that applicant criteria are being respected due to a failure to track client results. [Resulting in] a lack of information to guide budgeting, policy development, and management planning”. The governments continued lack to address issues of transparency and fiscal responsibility since the programs inception in 1997 has left many critics to argue that the YES is a “scandal” and “severely limited”. The 2009 evaluation the HRSDC mandated that it would address people that face systemic barriers but the media and community organizations have argued that there has been no comprehensive plan to address systemic barriers or set a minimum amount of funding that went to specific youth groups, such as disabled youth, indigenous youth, etc.
In traditionally more right wing political newspapers like the National Post and Globe and Mail the responses to the policy were mostly negative but also some that were positive and merely descriptive of where money had been allocated. The negative responses criticised the policy for its lack of monitoring and information on budgeting and management planning. In the late 90’s and early 2000’s criticism of the policy from conservatives came from the position of wasted tax dollars by a Liberal party government policy, which the conservative government needed to fully review. Criticisms in the nature of wasted tax dollars continue, stating that the situation for youth is not that bad comparably and that there is no difference between finding employment now as it was in the 1960’s or 1970’s
There has been minimal specific focus on the singular YES policy by community agencies and organization. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) and United Way Toronto both released comprehensive reports on the general conditions of youth employment and precarious employment in Canada. The United Way report focused on comparing Canadian youth policies to international and domestic policies. The conclusions from the report led to a call for a more holistic youth policy that reflected the realities of unemployed youth in Canada. The United Way argues that holistic youth policy would see cooperation between multiple government sectors, community accountability, and a critical definition of what consists of youth unemployment and issues. The CCPA states that there needs to be a greater focus on underemployment and precarious employment experiences by youth. Underemployment will have a long-term impact on the Canadian economy and the ability for youth to obtain long-term careers that provide social security like benefits and pensions. The narrow mandate of the YES policy means that generally only a small portion of youth benefit from the funds distributed by YES. The CCPA concluded that the benefit to youth by the YES program is limited and that challenges for youth will continue to increase as federal and provincial governments continue to cut social services. Cuts to social services is negative for youth because it means that they have limited access to support systems, health and education services. Which results in the responsibilities and burdens to provide for the well-being of themselves and other people becomes an individual concern rather than being able to access collective support systems.
There have been numerous community groups that have responses to the poor social conditions of youth and organized to address social oppressions in Canada. Some of the community organizations include: The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, Prairie Struggle, Greater Toronto Workers Assembly, Fight Back, BASICS, Women United Against Imperialism, Canadian Auto Workers Union, to name a few. The responses and demands from the community organizations reflect the lack of security and discrimination that people face due to systemic racism, sexism, and poverty in Canadian society. The organizations have different mandates but generally call for a restructuring of Canadian state policies that fully address systemic oppressions and secure services that increase the well-being for Canada’s unemployed and marginalized people.
This paper provided an overview of the Youth Employment Strategy so we can understand how policy operates and how it affects our lives. A description of how policy is formed, it’s history, and current operation is important because it provides a possible explanation of what we can expect in terms of support or lack of support from the government. Additionally, it provides an example of explaining changes to social services and peoples daily experiences while looking for work or being underemployed. In future sections I will describe more criticisms of the youth policy and also a critical analysis of why the state has intentionally structured the policy and why they have not addressed overarching concerns.
Information Used and Further Sources
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