Panel calls for changes to youth jobs program

OTTAWA — The federal Liberals should overhaul the government’s summer jobs program to help young people who aren’t in school find work and do so at any time of the year, a new report says.

The final report of the government’s expert panel on youth employment says the Canada Summer Jobs program, which helps businesses and non-profits hire students for the summer, should expand eligibility to those who are not in post-secondary studies and be accessible throughout the year.

The panel envisions changes to the summer jobs program as part of a wider overhaul of federal youth employment services to make it easier for employers to access, and support entrepreneurship as a valid career path for young people.

Above all, the government needs to do more than just provide lip service to youth about helping them find work, the panel writes in its long-awaited final report.

The government should consider hiring more young people for the federal public service, the report says.

It should also put an generational lens on budget provisions to explain how decisions could affect youth today and in the future.

“We heard that young people feel as if governments make decisions without considering how present-day trade-offs may affect the younger generation,” the panel wrote in the report, released Thursday.

“By viewing policy analysis and budget decisions through an intergenerational lens, the government would demonstrate that youth are a priority group and invite more mindfulness of the future.”

The report also puts a heavy emphasis on helping indigenous youth improve their skills and get a foothold in the job market.

The Liberals’ second budget put an emphasis on skills training and getting students more on-the-job experience to help navigate a labour market defined by part-time and precarious employment and job churn. The budget also made changes to employment insurance to broaden eligibility — a step the panel believes could be expanded further to help more young people qualify for benefits, including those who return to school.

While Canada’s youth are more likely to be employed than their peers in other countries, the situation domestically is far from stable.

A shift away from manufacturing to service and knowledge-based jobs has led to an increased demand for soft skills like problem-solving and critical thinking. Schools struggle to keep up with the pace of technological change so graduates don’t feel they are unprepared for the job market. And young workers often feel a financial crunch from lower wages and high student debt.

One employer described the situation as “a quiet crisis” with potentially devastating effects absent any action.

“Young people want to work. They want to gain independence and contribute to society,” the report says.

“It’s our job, as government, employers, educational institutions, unions and support services — all partners in the future of Canada — to make it happen.”

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