Since the elevation of Kathleen Wynne to the position of Premier there appears to be a glimmer of hope that problems related to the youth labour market will be addressed in some fashion given the frequent references to youth unemployment in her news conferences and in the recent Throne Speech.
With this new spirit of optimism in mind I've assembled an approach that centres around ideas that could be utilized to build a stronger youth labour market, spur job creation for Ontario's youth, and enable economic growth. Adhering to this approach would symbolize a demonstrable commitment to Ontario's youth and recognition of the difficult socio-economic undercurrents they are facing. What this approach represents is a sensible investment in ensuring sustainable social and economic outcomes for Ontario's next generation of citizens.
Below I've laid out a high-level framework with some key elements that would be useful in addressing the current problems in the youth labour market and avoiding future problems as the labour supply begins to shrink due to demographic pressures.
1. Youth Labour Market Strategy
There is a need to develop and implement a series of youth labour market strategies. It's clear that four separate, yet interwoven strategies are needed and which would focus on: rural environs; urban centres; Aboriginal youth; and, Northern Ontario. Within each strategy there would have to be tailoring to focus on the needs of each separate region as the labour market need differ greatly across Ontario. It's difficult to list what would be contained in the individual strategies, but at a minimum a good start would be a series of consultations with stakeholder groups starting not later than the summer of 2013.
2. Labour Market Information System
Neither the Province of Ontario, nor its citizens benefit from any comprehensive labour market information system. The information currently on offer from the Provincial and Federal governments isn't exactly comprehensive (see: here, here, or here) and arguably sub-par. There's as need to understand what's occurring in the youth labour market to a much higher degree. There are two main goals behind this element: to track the various types of employment that youths engage in and to track individual outcomes throughout the school-to-labour market transition. That being said, there are a number of benefits: youths would have access to better information to base career and educational decisions on, workers would face reduced information asymmetries, and we would be able to negotiate immigration policy with the Federal government on firmer footing.
3. Youth Labour Market Secretariat
Currently there is no body within the Ontario government dedicated to analyzing and advising on issues pertaining to youth labour market issues, rather there are a series of silos that lack the necessary holistic focus needed to tackle thorny issues around policy setting. To overcome this tunnelvision it's necessary to create a dedicated Youth Labour Market Secretariat resourced with staff that can coordinate efforts across government pertaining to youth labour market issues. The staff of this Secretariat should be drawn from: the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities; the Ministry of Labour; the Ministry of Education; and, the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade, and Employment. Simply put, there needs to be one body that can coordinate efforts to reduce the economic scarring that the current generation is experiencing.
4. Proactive Enforcement
There is a dire need for the Ministry of Labour to develop a proactive enforcement strategy centred around employment standards; specifically, this strategy would need to focus on illegal unpaid labour and wage theft targeting youths. At a minimum this strategy would need to have three components: an ongoing proactive inspection blitz schedule targeting high-risk industries known to violate the rights of young workers (such as: law, media, fashion); a design that would respond and adapt enforcement techniques to the digital age; and, development of educational and information sharing networks with stakeholders to identify emerging regulatory challenges, questionable employment practices, and targets for proactive enforcement efforts. It should be noted that other governments, such as Australia, are already rolling out proactive enforcement strategies.
5. Rationalization of Post-Secondary Enrolment
An open secret within post-secondary education sector is that many university graduates currently have very poor labour market outcomes. In key professions there is a very apparent over-supply problem, simply look at law, teaching, medicine, registered dietician, or journalism programs. Students are being haphazardly funnelled into programs without nary a thought to where they might end up. This needs to change as students should be made aware of programs that have poor labour market outcomes. With this problem in mind generally there needs to be greater oversight of the activities of both the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities and the post-secondary education sector as a whole. Specifically, there needs to be rationalization of enrolment numbers and elimination of programs that are no longer serving there original purpose.
There has been quite a bit of research that should be considered in the development of any policy designed to stem youth unemployment. I've culled some of it below and I encourage policy makers to review it. My recommendations are: the Metclaf Foundation's Working Better report; Rick Miner's Jobs Without People, People Without Jobs report; the CGA's Youth Unemployment in Canada report; Richard Marquardt's book Enter At Your Own Risk; Guy Standing's book The Precariat; the Law Commission of Ontario's interim report on vulnerable workers; and the Australia's Fair Work Ombudsman's report on unpaid internships. Finally, check out this video: