Propelling youth from classroom to career

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Learn what these leading experts have to say on addressing youth unemployment.

UPDATE: On Thursday, September 4, at a mayoral candidates debate hosted by the Toronto Region Board of Trade and the Globe & Mail, our own Susan McIsaac, President and CEO of United Way Toronto, asked candidates how they would address the issue of high youth unemployment in Toronto. Hear from the candidates and go on to read the thoughts from some other leading experts on how we can create opportunities for our youth to succeed.

Toronto’s youth are one of our city’s greatest assets. But we also know that many young people in our city are struggling, particularly as economic opportunities continue to dwindle. The youth unemployment rate in Toronto is more than twice the national average and has been on the rise for more than a decade, up more than 50% since 2001.

Over the past year, an alarming number of young people have given up looking for work. Many of these same youth not only have to face a lack of opportunities, but they also face considerable barriers to their economic success including poverty, social and economic inequity, and discrimination, among others.

It’s time for solutions. Strategic solutions. Youth-led solutions that put our city’s young people in the driver’s seat when it comes to creating meaningful opportunities for their long-term success. But we can’t do it alone.

Propelling our city’s youth from classroom to career requires strategic, lasting partnerships between the private, public and not-for-profit sectors with a focus on education, employment and engagement. Here’s what three leading experts on youth employment had to say at our recent 2014 Annual General Meeting.

Employers need to set youth up for success in the workplace. “We really have to focus on building the workplace of the future,” says Zabeen Hirji , RBC’s Chief Human Resources Officer. The best way to do this? Help our city’s youth develop “soft skills” such as teamwork, communication, problem-solving and critical thinking that are so important to success in the workplace.  In January 2014, RBC introduced its “Career Launch” initiative, a one-year employment program for 100 young people across the country that offers on-the-job training, a three-month placement in the not-for-profit sector (including United Way Toronto) and a formal mentoring component. “The soft skills they learn here build a more agile workplace and help young people learn and evolve as they progress,” she says.

We need to level the playing field for youth facing barriers. Young people who face additional barriers to employment—including poverty and exposure to violence and crime—are particularly vulnerable.  “The reality is when you face systemic challenges over-and-over the one thing that does to young people is to rob them of hope,” says Denise Andrea Campbell, Director of Social Policy Analysis and Research at the City of Toronto. “We need to bring employers in front of young people who are vulnerable, with supports, to ensure that we are leveling the playing field. These young people have tremendous skills and talents and if we create the space for them to apply these…towards a living wage and a career.”

We need to go beyond short-term fixes and build lasting, customizable solutions: “At the heart of any social intervention is real human relationships—and that takes time to build,” says Kofi Hope, a youth advocate and Managing Director of Community Empowering Enterprises, a non-profit initiative that aims to increase economic opportunities for Black youth living in Toronto’s priority neighbourhoods and is a legacy initiative of United Way Toronto’s Youth Challenge Fund. “We want to support youth now, but what’s our 10- to 15-year plan?” Leadership groups, job training workshops and youth-focused events are a good start, he adds, but we need to focus on fully integrating youth into the employment system by engaging them all the way from high school to entry-level jobs and up the organizational ladder.