In December 2016, Stats Canada published Perspectives on the Youth Labour Market in Canada, a report comparing current labour statistics to those in the 1970s for young Canadians aged 15 to 24. It found that while youth unemployment levels are similar, job quality appears to have deteriorated for many young people. How can today’s youth, especially those facing additional barriers to employment, cope with the challenge of launching a fulfilling career? Three young jobseekers, – Dali, Mercedes and Riva (first names used only) – decided to reach out for guidance.
Dali came to Canada from Mexico while Mercedes recently moved to Surrey from Six Nations, Ontario. Both decided to join the Youth Employment Connect (YEC) program run by S.U.C.C.E.S.S.
“When I started looking for a job [in tourism], I wanted to know how the system works here in Canada,” says Dali. She already holds a degree in tourism and has relevant work experience, but feels that she needs to readjust to the Canadian job market. “The system where I come from is different,” explains Dali. “The way to write my resume, the way to present myself.”
Introduced in October 2015, the YEC program has graduated 97 participants to date. It addresses three common barriers to youth employment: lack of confidence, lack of job market knowledge, and lack of job search skills.
Linda Wu, program director of YEC, explains that the program works by focusing on self-exploration and empowerment. “The four weeks of group based training is designed to answer three questions: who are you, where do you want to go, and how will you get there.”
Mercedes’s goal is to work as a freelance make-up artist. Two weeks into the program, Mercedes feels that she has made personal progress. “I’ve learned a lot more about my qualities,” she says. “A lot of times, people don’t talk about the good things about themselves.” She is also more confident in her job search. “Before, I only knew of one place to look for a job. Now there are multiple places I can go to look.”
Wendy McCulloch, Director of Operations at S.U.C.C.E.S.S, notes that the unemployment rate in B.C. is 5.5% but the youth unemployment rate stands at 9.7%. According to the latest Labour Force Survey from Stats Canada, the national rates are higher at 6.5% and 11.7% respectively. While acknowledging the immediate needs of finding work, McCulloch believes that young people should take time to reflect on what they are doing.
“The heart of YEC is not just taking youth and matching them with jobs,” explains McCulloch. “It’s about helping them be successful throughout their working career. Because at the end of the day, it’s not only about being a worker, but it’s about being a person. What kind of person do you want to be?”
Rebuilding a life
New immigrant youth face many additional barriers. Some do not come from countries where English is widely used, and the need to learn a new language creates significant interruptions to their education and career. Even those who are fluent in English face the challenge of adapting to Canadian culture, as well as the need to recertify in Canada before continuing their profession. Recertification and retraining is often a lengthy and costly process. Newcomer youth may also lack access to career opportunities from their parents’ or their own networks.
Riva immigrated to Canada six months ago. Having taught college-level English Literature in India for four years, she expresses herself well in English. Yet, despite her language skills, Riva worried about her prospects even before arriving in Canada. “How would I be able to get back into teaching? Will I ever be able to?”
Riva eventually enrolled in DIVERSEcity’s Future Leaders (FL) program, although she admits that she was initially skeptical. “I was, to be honest, very apprehensive about the program. It was about basic life skills which I thought I already had!” Today, Riva speaks enthusiastically about the positivity and openness in the program. It allowed her to critically assess the challenges she faces. “It was one of the most fantastic experiences I’ve ever had,” she says. “You confront your own limitations. Because unless you confront them, you cannot resolve them.”
The FL program has been running for a decade, graduating between 30 to 40 participants yearly. JR Guerrero, Employment Specialist and Youth Counselor at DIVERSEcity, worked with Riva on her soft skills. “In the Canadian workplace, you need to be assertive, communicative, focused and flexible,” says Guerrero. “Some of these things do not come second nature or naturally for newcomers.”
Susan Liu Woronko, manager of Skills, Training and Employment at DIVERSEcity, emphasizes the importance of soft skills. “How to do a Canadian handshake, make eye contact, make small talk and to talk to people about hockey,” she says. “It builds relationships in a team. If you can’t share a joke, then you don’t feel like you belong. And then, how do you function when you don’t connect with the people next to you?”
Riva currently works in the fast food industry. The job is a way for her to support herself and a path to deeper integration in society. It is also a way to practice her soft skills. “What I learnt is that you have to begin somewhere,” she says. “If I don’t take the job that comes my way, I won’t reach anywhere.” At the same time, Riva has applied to the teaching program at Simon Fraser University and is determined to ultimately return to teaching.
Finding your uniqueness
Alden Habacon is a veteran diversity strategist who advises multiple not-for-profits, universities, cities and large organizations. He often sees young people, anxious to plot out their career, move from one job to the next. “There’s a rush to land the perfect job,” says Habacon. He views any job as an opportunity to open oneself up to new experiences. The key is to invest time in knowing oneself instead of active job searching. “Being in that job, even just an entry level job, might actually help you figure out what you’re unique at. It’s a much more fruitful approach than strategizing am I at the right job at the right time.”
It is a positive message for young people: the keys to a fulfilling career lie within.
For more information on the Youth Employment Program at S.U.C.C.E.S.S., contact firstname.lastname@example.org, Tel. 604.468.6007
For more information on Immigrant Youth Employment Programs at DIVERSEcity, visit www.dcrs.ca.