The Canadian federal government recently announced that it will not open student summer job centres across the country this year, at a savings of $6.5 million, because students prefer using the Internet to search for jobs.
Canada's Human Resources Minister Diane Findley says the government will instead beef up its online job portal for youth. The job bank and career resources provided by the government are, to put it mildly, disappointing. The job bank has no cohesiveness between municipal, provincial, and federal
governments, and the resources are simply a small collection of outdated and mostly irrelevant articles on resume writing and interviews.
At first, we were extremely disheartened and frustrated that the federal government would roll back career services for youth at a time when the youth unemployment rate is above 14 per cent -- double the national average -- and students are coming out of school with crippling debt loads.
Add to that the fact that many employers hiring for entry-level roles require students to have one to three years of relevant work experience before they graduate! It's a tough time to be a post-secondary student in Canada and these particular government services certainly aren't helping.
But then we reconsidered the question: Is it the responsibility or role of the government to provide a job board or youth employment counselling? No. In fact, the government has no place in career advising -- whether online or offline -- in the first place.
The role of the government, instead, should be to support, incentivize, fund, and collaborate
with for-profit and not-for-profit organizations and institutions whose passions, focus, and expertise lie in youth employment to execute these types of services. These non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and businesses are driven by more than just the fear of voter backlash, and their budgets and mandates do not change with every election cycle.
Here's what we think the government CAN do, or is already doing well, to support youth
1) Mandate career education in schools: One of the most important success factors among graduating students is career education and preparation, including career exploration, work placements, co-operative education programs, mentoring, and practical job hunting skills, such as how to write an effective resume.
All of these should be incorporated into elementary, secondary and post-secondary school curricula in age-appropriate formats that build on core work-related skills each year to help students understand what they want to do, what they're good at doing, which professions are in-demand, and how to successfully go through the application and interview process.
2) Better promote government incentives: Various levels of government across the country are doing amazing things to stimulate the economy, provide better access to education and help youth find meaningful paid work, including scholarships, grants, student work programs, wage subsidies, and tax breaks.
The problem is that the general public often doesn't know about these initiatives. Television commercials and banner ads on government websites aren't enough -- they need smart and authentic communications strategies that will reach targeted segments of youth and their potential employers through social and digital media, email marketing, relationship building, content creation, and good old-fashioned online advertising campaigns.
3) Encourage employers to hire students and recent graduates from a variety of degree backgrounds: Employers in Canada tend to want to hire students and new graduates from a very narrow talent pool -- for example, graduating students from the business programs at three so-called "top tier" schools. As a result, employers have to provide fewer training opportunities, but thousands of arts and humanities graduates (the largest cohort of university students) are left un- or under-employed.
By providing training subsidies and incentives to hire more broadly, the government would encourage employers to add greater diversity to the workforce and provide increased career opportunities for a huge segment of the population that is well-educated and can be trained internally for a variety of roles.
Part of the role of government in Canada is to provide a social safety net, but in many cases, it does not make sense for the government to be the entity that actually executes the services that form the safety net. Youth employment is one of those cases. Regardless of the reasoning, the federal government's recent decision to close youth employment centres was a good one if they ultimately choose to use the savings to focus on what governments are uniquely positioned to do, which is using the resources at their disposal to help other organizations and institutions make society -- and the economy -- better and stronger for everyone, especially vulnerable groups like students and recent graduates.