Civic leaders tackle youth unemployment

Posted on September 12, 2014 in Debates – Opinion/Commentary – After years of hand-wringing, local activists have come up with a practical plan to bring unemployed youth into the workforce.
Sep 11 2014.   By: Carol Goar Star, Columnist

Youth unemployment is such a stubborn challenge that it has stymied presidents, defied prime ministers and left bureaucrats wringing their hands.

They have studied the problem endlessly and announced innumerable programs, but the rate — roughly double the national average — has scarcely budged in 15 years.

Educators have become increasingly market-oriented. But they can’t tailor courses to the requirements of individual companies or anticipate employment trends.

Social activists have developed an extensive network of services for unemployed youth: how to find job vacancies, how to write an effective resumé, how to prepare for a job interview, even how to dress appropriately. But they can’t open corporate doors.

This week, CivicAction, a coalition of Torontonians created to tackle the city’s most intractable problems, stepped to the fore. What was refreshing about its approach is that the urban alliance didn’t attempt to reinvent the wheel, didn’t raise unrealistic expectations and didn’t try to dazzle people with its originality or grandiloquent rhetoric.

It put forward a plain-language 10-point action plan entitled “Escalator: Jobs for Youth Facing Barriers.”

Its first four actions were designed for immediate implementation. The remaining six were important but not urgent. “This isn’t a new problem,” said Sevaun Palvetzian, chief executive of CivicAction. “We’ve talked about it long enough. It’s time for action.”

The must-do-now priorities are:

Assemble a vanguard of local companies willing to provide job-specific training and entry-level internships to young people who can’t find a job because they don’t have experience and don’t have skills that match employers’ needs.  Seven firms have already agreed to take the lead: Cisco Systems, the Royal Bank, the Toronto Dominion Bank, the Boston Consulting Group, Accenture, the Greater Toronto Airports Authority and Aecon (Construction). More are welcome.

Set up an online registry to help first-time job seekers find an ally in the work world. CivicAction sees no need to create a new structure. It is looking for an existing non-profit capable of building and sustaining the database, training mentors and ensuring the quality and credibility of the information.  Mentorship is not a new idea. Toronto has numerous programs. But most are sector-specific or targeted at specific groups. And most of the mentors are senior executives whose job- hunting days are long behind them. CivicAction wants to connect jobless young people with millennials who have made it over the hiring hump and can share what they’ve learned.

Bring small- and medium-sized enterprises (known in business circles as SMEs) to the table. Although these companies create the lion’s share of new jobs in Ontario, most young people never hear about them and most small business owners don’t look outside their traditional network.  CivicAction aims to get these “hidden jobs” out into the open and show employers that there are motivated, affordable candidates for entry-level positions. “We need to reach out to SMEs, understand their needs and enable them to recruit and hire youth,” the alliance says.

Put practical, up-to-date information in the hands of young job seekers. They use their mobile phones for everything. CivicAction proposes to take advantage of digital technology to alert them to job vacancies, internships, training programs and skill requirements.

To get started, it has called for a region-wide contest to develop the best mobile app for unemployed youth.

All four actions are practical, focused and manageably sized. Once they’re in place, the next steps — building in accountability measures, developing a certification program, offering transit passes, launching a communication campaign and recognizing youth-friendly employers — can be taken as the need arises.

This project is an example of what CivicAction does best: build local consensus and get people from all walks of life working for a common goal.

In its early years, it was a powerful catalyst, rallying Torontonians to rise above their squabbling, myopic politicians. But after a strong start, it seemed to lose its way, expanding too fast, organizing too many unproductive summits and expending too much effort in lobbying others to act.

Escalator marks its return to hands-on problem solving. With this city’s brainpower, corporate muscle and can-do attitude, it just might work.

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