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Drop TFWs while young people struggle for jobs

Unemployment remains high, particularly among young people, yet the federal government continues to let in record numbers of temporary foreign workers (TFWs), says a new study from the Conference Board of Canada.

From 150,000 in 2006, the number of TFWs has grown to 340,000.

“This, justifiably, raises the question: if the unemployment rate remains relatively high and so many young and able Canadians are unable to find work, why are we still bringing in so many people under the TFW program?” notes the agency in this week’s report.

While providing no answers, the board does point to, among other possible explanations, a skills mismatch between what employers need and what young people can bring to the table. That gap has been the subject of much discussion of late, see, for instance, the Ontario Youth Jobs Strategy that was approved last month as part of the provincial budget process.

The skills mismatch is the divide between the abilities and credentials held by people looking for work and the qualifications sought by employers. Growing numbers of people – particularly young people – are unable to find work because they don’t have the right education and training. The problem is expected to get worse as new technology and innovations transform the economy and create increasing demands for a more highly skilled workforce.

Just how the unemployed will acquire new skills and experience remains to be seen, with employers seemingly more interested in hiring temporary foreign workers than providing training and opportunities to Canadians.

There appear to be more barriers to entry into the job market, particularly for jobs that might lead to an actual career path. This is especially true for those young people who drop out of school or who don’t pursue post-secondary education. That’s been a tough route for many years now, but today’s economic climate makes that even more problematic.

Since October 2008 (the pre-recession employment peak) the Canadian economy has created about 574,000 jobs, but young people are being left behind, the Conference Board notes.

Those findings echo a study last month by CIBC World Markets, which reported that while the youth unemployment rate is at its historical average, the ratio between youth unemployment and the unemployment rate for older Canadians is now at a record high. With youth unemployment running at nearly 2.4 times that of Canadians aged 25 and older, there are growing challenges for younger Canadians to find lasting and meaningful work.

About 70 per cent of young people working part-time are doing so involuntary, meaning they want to work full-time.

Overall, the message is that governments need to do much more to help young people. Some have benefitted from broader efforts to help the unemployed. But more policies are needed that target young people, especially those with poor education and skills. These “at-risk” youngsters now face the prospect of long-term joblessness and reduced earnings.

As with many low-income workers, young people increasingly find themselves in go-nowhere jobs, often part-time, with low pay, no benefits and no prospects of improvement. While some of these jobs may be adequate stepping stones for students, for those young people most at risk, today’s onramp to the job market can be a dead-end.

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