10 ways to fix Ontario’s youth unemployment crisis
TheStar.com – opinion/commentary – The province’s growing youth unemployment problem is profoundly complex, but we are not powerless to address it.
Sep 30 2013. By: Bruce Davis
In the aftermath of Jordan Manners’ death in 2007 the province and the Toronto public school board launched Focus on Youth to provide summer camps for thousands of children in Toronto’s toughest neighbourhoods.
The defining strength of Focus on Youth was that it hired and trained 300 teenagers to implement the program.
Those summer jobs created short-term employment — but they also launched 300 young men and women into the world of substantive, meaningful work. Most participants said it was the best experience of their lives.
Since then more than 2,000 teenagers have graduated from the program in Toronto alone and their personal stories are powerful.
We need that same kind of resourcefulness, discipline and dispatch to address the broader issues underlying Ontario’s growing problem of youth unemployment and underemployment.
A new report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives shows that, at 16.4 per cent, Ontario’s youth unemployment rate is among the worst in Canada, worse even than most of the struggling “rust belt” states in the U.S.
It’s a complex problem to be sure, but one we are not powerless to address. Here are 10 ways we might begin to ease it.
1. Ten provincial ministries are involved in youth employment. They need to be co-ordinated and streamlined, with a youth employment champion empowered to drive the issue across the government.
2. Youth apprenticeship programs need to be reviewed and opportunities for work in the trades expanded. Government procurement, school construction and transit construction should all require organized labour and contractors to train and hire young men and women. Unions are showing leadership in this area but their programs need to be aggressively expanded.
3. Focus on Youth should be expanded in size and scope and focused on hiring youth from priority neighbourhoods. Hiring practices should be carefully monitored to ensure communities are well-served and genuine needs met. Focus on Youth costs a fraction of the Employment Ontario training grants now touted by the provincial government and the New Democrats.
4. Let’s use taxpayer money to stimulate greater community service and workplace experience. Turn the 30 per cent tuition credit created by the McGuinty government at a cost of $500 million a year into paid placements so that post-secondary students can work with non-profit organizations or schools or hospitals. Imagine launching 300,000 tutors in after-school programs at no incremental cost to the government.
5. The Youth in Policing program needs to be doubled and the focus changed to allow 16-18 year olds to spend more time in the program before applying to police college. Use these funds to support hard-to-serve or racialized youth. Working with the Somali community in Toronto, I have seen these youth shut out of policing. Why is there only one Somali-Canadian police officer in Toronto? We can do better.
6. The horse racing industry wants OLG subsidies? Let them hire youth from our towns and cities to clean their stables. Why doesn’t the Ministry of Natural Resources hire kids from TCHC? That money is already being spent, but spending it smartly will change lives forever.
7. Provincial suppliers and regulated industries and provincial transfer partners like school boards, hospitals, municipalities and post-secondary schools should be required by law to develop youth employment plans that clearly outline how they can hire and train more youth. This isn’t a set-aside to hire youth, but a requirement to develop and submit realistic plans to the government. Private sector employers with more than 50 employees could also be mandated to develop these plans.
8. For smaller businesses, why not allow them to deduct a portion of each new young employee’s salary from their education property taxes?
9. Increasing Ontario’s minimum wage is important to support working families, but the province should maintain a lower minimum wage for teenagers to entice employers.
10. Ontario is currently facing a massive glut of trained but unemployed teachers. Create Teach for Ontario (T4O) to hire 1,000 recent graduates and place them in priority neighbourhoods; this could be funded by enticing veteran teachers to take early leaving packages, which will create more jobs for young teachers.
None of these solutions is simple, but nor are they impossible. When we created Focus on Youth in six weeks in 2007 many said it couldn’t be done. We did it. And the Minister of Education at the time? Kathleen Wynne.
Bruce Davis is the President of Public Progress Inc. and the Gananoque Brewing Company. He is a former Chair of Toronto District School Board. Since 1997 he has hired more than two dozen young employees.
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