Giving youth work opportunities is a good way to make big changes in our city

Orville Wallace and two JVS YouthReach clients stand outside the agency. YouthReach helps connect young people who have been inconflict with the law to work opportunities. You can learn more about this fantastic program and many others offered by JVS (a United Way member agency), by visiting

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.

1 thought on “Giving youth work opportunities is a good way to make big changes in our city

  1. Many youth in conflict with the law are very anxious to obtain employment but are discouraged by barriers outside of their criminal records. A lack of family support, realistic role models, and minimum education levels leave these youth feeling unable to find a place in a competitive society. Working with Both Mario and Jamon for over 2 years, I have seen them personally overcome the barriers of living in a marginalized community. They are a proven fact that the correct support and community programs such as Youth Reach are essential to assist youth rise above barriers and even uplift other youth in their communities.

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