I got my first job working at McDonald’s when I was a teenager. I remember an odd combination of feelings on my first day — nervousness, excitement and pride all mixed together. That job taught me basic lessons that have served me well throughout my career. Show up on time. Provide good customer service. Work well with others.
Reading Orville’s post reminded me of one important fact: I was lucky. So many young people today don’t have that opportunity to get their foot in the door and start building the experience, skills and networks they need to be successful.
It’s a tough job market for anyone looking for work, especially here in Toronto. But it’s even tougher for young people — youth unemployment is at 18%. The average young person faces serious barriers to getting a job.
So for youth who have been in conflict with the law, getting a job can seem impossible. Just imagine being ready and committed to leaving your past behind only to find the door to opportunity firmly shut.
I spent a lot of time this summer talking to young people from across the city, some — like one young man you’ll hear from next week —have been in this very situation. And I heard one thing over and over and over again: they want to work. They want opportunities. They want a chance to begin building a career.
I got the opportunities I needed to succeed. Now I want to make sure today’s young people do too. Jobs aren’t the whole story, but they’re an important part of success. And at the end of the day, Toronto is strongest when everyone has equal access to opportunity. That’s why we need to improve the conditions for youth employment in Toronto, particularly for those in vulnerable situations.
And I’m not the only one that feels that way. United Way has started working with other city-building organizations to open doors for youth in priority neighbourhoods. We all recognize this work as vital, especially after this summer’s violence.
It’ll take time. It’ll also take commitment from the corporate sector, not-for-profits, educational institutions, governments and many others. All young people have the potential to do great things. We just need to give them the tools and support they need to get there.