Young people deserve that first job

Alberta: The land of opportunity.

This is the idea that brought my parents here more than 40 years ago. They packed up me and my sister and headed west for better jobs and a hope for a better future for their children.

Fast forward 10 years to a bright-eyed and eager teenager standing in front of the store manager at All West Grocers looking for a job.

I didn’t have a lot going for me, other than I was willing and ready to work. No experience. No skills. But for whatever reason, that man said yes and I started three days later.

It was that job that kick-started my working life. It wasn’t glamourous, but I learned to be punctual, detail oriented, responsible and how to appropriately interact with a customer asking in what aisle they could find the peanut butter and whether they wanted paper or plastic bags.

Looking back now, I realize that hiring a young worker with no experience was a risk that my employer decided to take on.

We often hear from youth today that employers are looking for employees with experience. But how can they get experience if they can’t get that first job?

I wonder what would have happened to me had I not been able to find an employer who was willing to take that chance?

Unfortunately, that is the reality that thousands of youth are facing right now.

The former government’s policy to raise the minimum wage in the face of one of the worst economic downturns in Alberta’s history created the very conditions where inexperienced youth, in particular, are unable to find work.

The minimum wage went too high too fast, and the job market could not keep up.

The Bank of Canada estimates that a 10 per cent increase in the minimum wage decreases youth employment by 2.6 per cent.

Other studies have stated that number is more like three to six per cent.

The previous government raised the minimum wage by nearly 50 per cent in three short years. These studies are reflected in reality. With the stats showing that unemployment for those under 18 in the first quarter of 2019 is almost triple the adult unemployment rate, we can see that the previous government’s policy has failed.

This is unacceptable. Lack of job opportunities for our youth limits their earning potential over the long term.

In the land of opportunity, it is critical that our youth are able to enter the labour market and find that first job that is so important for future job success.

The youth job creation wage is designed to incentivize our job creators to look at that bright-eyed young person with no skills and experience and give them a chance.

We owe it to our youth to ensure that they have all the opportunities that the generations before them had.

Let’s give Alberta’s youth a chance.

Jason Copping is Alberta’s minister of labour and immigration.

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