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The Future of Twentysomethings

When I first wrote about it six years ago, Toronto's youth unemployment rate was at 18.1%. Student summer employment figures had been down for the previous 6 years. Student debt was, on average, around $25,000. Underemployment was evident everywhere where you found college and university graduates selling t-shirts, flipping burgers and brewing coffee for minimum wage and where they were at the mercy of managers who treated them as expendable and easily replaceable. Some corporate employers demanded 3 years’ experience for an entry-level position. Many unpaid internships exploited the desperation of young people eager to gain any kind of work experience. Blaming and finger-pointing pitted government, industry and learning institutions against each other over an apparent skills gap, at the expense of the young people who were being cheated out of opportunities to learn, grow and develop. The old adages of working hard to reach one's goals didn't seem to apply the way they used to and it all seemed terribly unfair.

While some were able to create jobs for themselves with start-up ventures that proved successful, and some had positive internship experiences that led to permanent jobs, most felt discouraged and frustrated with the way things had turned out for them. Despite working hard to put themselves through college or university, they felt disappointed and disillusioned that they were unable to find full-time and meaningful employment to pay off the debt they had accrued and to get on with their lives. They craved financial and physical independence from their families but many could not afford it. Many felt trapped by circumstances beyond their control and feared a future of chronic underemployment.

At that time, I had suggested that there were some obvious things that needed to be looked at, such as:

  1. Lowering tuition costs

  2. Reinstating interest-free student loans

  3. Raising the minimum wage to above the poverty line so that people were not forced into working one, two or three part-time jobs to make ends meet.

  4. Creating more affordable housing

  5. Eliminating unpaid internships

  6. Ensuring a learning component in paid internships

  7. Educating industry to let them know that a liberal arts degree produces graduates who can think analytically, solve complex problems, communicate effectively, and collaborate readily with others on a team.

  8. Creating more full-time, permanent jobs.

Now here it is, six years later and as if things weren’t bad enough before, COVID 19 has made things even worse. The youth unemployment rate has now shot up to 30%.* Potential income for students disappeared with cancelled summer jobs, co-ops, and internships. Thousands who had finally gained employment have now been threatened with possible permanent job loss.

The government of Canada has come up with a number of initiatives and grants over the last six months, including easing eligibility requirement for student loans, increasing student grants, placing a six-month moratorium on repayment of student loans and developing employment opportunities for disadvantaged youth. But many of these programs will soon be over and so will serve as yet another Band-Aid for a major problem for our youth, whose future seems to have been so unfairly robbed from them. Some long-term solutions are needed. Any ideas?

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