By PAT WATSON
There are young people in this city with one, two, even three pieces of paper to verify their academic achievements, yet they cannot convince an employer to give them a job. The rate of unemployment in Ontario is the highest in the country at 15.5 per cent for those between the ages of 15 and 24 years.
When we look at some cities, the rate is even higher, pushing up towards 20 per cent in places like Kingston and Oshawa. With a specific eye to Toronto’s Black youth, the unemployment rate is moving toward something like one in four. Then, there are those who are underemployed.
In a recent conversation overheard on a bus, a woman working in human resources was telling her co-passenger that employers are not looking for second and third college and university degrees, they are looking for people with experience. She said people going back to school to get a graduate degree are going to be disappointed if they think that is what is missing from their résumé.
We have a youth employment crisis in our midst and it is not going away anytime soon. The worrying news that only 200 jobs were created in the province last month is another sign that we need a radical re-think to get young people moving on with their lives.
The trend is compounded by the fact that poverty is affecting a larger mass of older workers who cannot afford to retire. They are staying in the workforce longer and therefore leaving fewer slots for young employment seekers to fill.
Also, there is a tendency among young people, which, while it might have been realistic at some time in the past, does not hold now, and that is, they expect to begin at a level of employment commensurate with their level of university education. But the liberal arts degree of 2014 does not carry the same weight as the BA of 1985. Strange as it seems, the youth are looking to patterns of the past to fulfill their aspirations in the present. The world has changed, as it is wont to do. Basing current life expectations on past patterns is not working. It can’t because the requirements have changed. There are very few if any jobs-for-life waiting to be had anymore.
That is why it would be well for young people to begin to find ways to create their own jobs. Waiting for openings will only lead to despondency. Especially in the case of young Black folks, the reasons they will not get the job over a person of another ethnicity may be presented as myriad, but race will play a role in why they do not get hired for certain jobs. You want to work in security? You have a chance. A job serving in a fast food restaurant? Sure. As a ‘sales associate’ in a budget chain? Yes, why not. You’re hired. But, if you are trying to enter into the world of so-called middle-class employment then you will likely be left standing in line.
There are youth who have a way of making things happen. Those individuals with that special ability must be supported because they will energize their peers to move along with them.
This is not a new perspective. All along, those who wish to see the growth of the Black community have been preaching self-uplift; that we must create our own economy to become more independent. Ask any person of colour who is running his or her own business how empowering that is. Even if the business isn’t, in the eyes of the world, an overwhelming success, to have that aspect of your working life in your hands endows a sense of place in the world that cannot be imitated. Of course it is challenging, but so is not having a job or being underemployed.
What would it look like if youth got together to share ideas, to investigate start-up funding options, to seek out organizations that provide business planning skills to get them self-employed? It looks better than the alternative.
Another note on youth employment…
There is always the job opportunity for youth of seeking political office. We need the youth perspective at all levels of government.
Pat Watson is the author of the e-book, In Through A Coloured Lens. Twitter@patprose.