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Parties Must Address Youth Unemployment

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YOUTH UNEMPLOYMENT
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As the federal election campaign enters its final weeks, it's difficult to see a clear plan for tackling the unemployment and under-employment challenges facing young people today.

Certainly the economy is a dominant issue in the election. Along with the debates about balanced budgets and new spending, the parties are promising to bring in measures to create new jobs.

But one of the biggest challenges -- youth unemployment -- deserves much greater attention.

This is particularly true as new technology continues to overturn the economy. The shape of the workforce is changing, with many jobs being replaced by new ways of doing things. Young people entering the workforce are expected to have more qualifications and greater levels of professional and technical skills.

The underemployment problem is particularly daunting. Too many young people are employed in jobs where their talents and skills are underutilized.

The skills gap -- the divide between the qualifications held by job seekers and the skills sought by employers -- remains a huge part of the problem. Many employers can't find qualified people at the same time that youth unemployment remains far too high.

For example, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce recently called for the political parties to commit to new measures to close the skills gap. Citing The Cost of Ontario's Skills Gap, a Conference Board of Canada report that was confucted for Ontario's colleges, chamber president Perrin Beatty said the skills gap costs Ontario about $24 billion a year in lost economic activity.

The chamber has called for measures to close the gap, including better labour-market data to project the career opportunities that will exist in the years ahead. The chamber is also calling for improvements to help more people complete apprenticeship training.

These are sound recommendations. I believe it will also be important to take a comprehensive look at post-secondary education and the qualifications of our graduates.

Canadians expect post-secondary education to lead to rewarding careers. In fact, polling research done earlier this year for Ontario's colleges found more than 60 per cent of Ontarians believe the main purpose of postsecondary education should be to teach specific skills and knowledge that can be used in the workplace.

We need to be candid and question how effectively we are meeting these expectations. In the years ahead, I believe it will be essential to put a greater emphasis on the career-specific programs offered at Canada's colleges.

We must continue the work to help more students pursue combinations of college and university education in a cost-effective and timely manner.

And we must reassess how we view higher education.

Jurisdictions outside Canada have postsecondary systems that place a greater value technical and professional training. This includes allowing students to pursue master's degrees in technical areas of study.

To remain competitive, Canada must look at a similar approach. We must champion the full range of postsecondary options available today and provide students with greater flexibility to include career-specific programs as part of their education.

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