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Job market showing better signs for young workers

Students returning to school in the fall should start looking at the Ontario Summer Jobs Program as early as March for everything from résumé writing to job hunting.

Heading into the prime job-seeking time for young workers, there are some signs of improvement in the Canadian employment market.

Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey for March shows a downward trend in unemployment since the fall, with employment growing by 43,000 last month. Overall, the unemployment rate dipped slightly to 6.9 per cent from 7 in January and February of this year.

Jennifer Kruger holds information on a youth program at the Waterloo Region Small Business Centre. Such local organizations and institutions are refocusing on youth as drivers behind Canada’s workforce, reflective of March Statistics Canada numbers.  [Elena Maystruk / The Observer]
Jennifer Kruger holds information on a youth program at the Waterloo Region Small Business Centre. Such local organizations and institutions are refocusing on youth as drivers behind Canada’s workforce, reflective of March Statistics Canada numbers. [Elena Maystruk / The Observer]
Waterloo Region is something of a Petri dish when it comes to young people in the workforce, said Jennifer Kruger, youth program coordinator at the Waterloo Region Small Business Centre. She notes youth workers are showing strength in innovative business and using entrepreneurship as both a track to gain experience for the job market or start their businesses.

“The creativity and innovation and the enthusiasm and the drive that comes with being a youth are certainly taking that movement forward – becoming actively involved in the community as well as wanting to start up on their own and seeing that passion become their life,” said Kruger.

The influx of younger people into business is a sign of new ideas and innovations that youth have to offer, she added, but the opportunity to gain experience and stack a résumé is also an important factor for new entrepreneurs.

“A lot of companies want [employees] to have experience. When you’re coming out of school you don’t have the experience: you’ve got the experience through your school studies but you don’t actually have the practical experience. That’s where I think students are struggling – they’ve got the skills to be hired by companies and some companies do hire, but some require them to have experience before they are brought onboard so youth are caught in a Catch-22.”

Kruger says institutions are starting to recognize the up-and-coming trend in business and employment, especially for youth.

“The colleges and universities are really on board with this as well. Conestoga College has a centre of entrepreneurship right now where they train and offer their students an opportunity to pursue business entrepreneurial options. Laurier’s Launch Pad is another great one. Laurier has done some great work with entrepreneurial business courses and I believe [University of] Waterloo is involved as well.

“A lot of the IT industries are coming up with some brilliant ideas but we’re also seeing other industries growing for youth as well, whether it be hospitality, health and wellness is another big one as well, construction and some trades and retail; even things like import and export and marketing and online jobs,” she said.

In that vein, Statistics Canada shows increases in employment in health care and social assistance fields as an upward trend – there were 24,000 additional jobs in March. Business, building and other support services also rose by 15,000.

Kruger says government programs are promoting entrepreneurship as a way of creating jobs for youths because the sector is putting innovative ideas into action.

“We have certain companies that are starting to bring students on board and certainly the coop opportunities in the institutional level help to gain some experience. But other students are looking at it as, ‘Well, if I can’t gain experience then [entrepreneurship] is another opportunity that I can pursue.’”

Evidence of youth becoming leaders in employment this month is seen in the numbers. Employment for youth aged 15 to 24 rose by 33,000 last month, though largely due to more youth entering the workforce (youth unemployment remained at 13.6 per cent). There was little change in employment for older age groups though unemployment also declined 0.2 percentage points to 5.7 per cent for Canadians aged 25-54. People aged 55 and over are seeing a smaller rising trend of employment of 3.4 per cent (over 114,000) since March 2013.

In context, unemployment rates are gradually dropping. The last five years saw the highest unemployment in August 2009 and 8.7 per cent (increased from 8.1 per cent in March 2009). Since then unemployment rates have dropped to 6.9 per cent three times in September and November of 2013, and then last month as well.

The Small Business Centre works with people wishing to be entrepreneurs and to own or grow businesses, offering resources consultations and guidance in starting or growing a business. Kruger says Waterloo Region’s business and employment gains are a community effort.

“The community is filled with opportunities,” Kruger said. “I’m looking at really creating community. There’s a few of us on board—including the YMCA, a number of post secondary institutions—that are all coming together now trying to create a united force which is helping students either gain the experience for the jobs that they want or allowing them to step out on their own.”

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