Thank you, Mr. May, and thank you for the opportunity to be here this morning.
I represent the Canadian Council for Career Development, which is a voluntary coalition of leaders in career development from all provinces, who help Canadians of all ages to navigate learning and work successfully.
We all know that the best routes out of poverty are through education and work, but accessing both has become increasingly difficult in Canada.
First, I'd like to set the context. Canada rates first among industrialized countries in the proportion of our citizens with university or college degrees or diplomas. That is the very good news. We also have the highest rates of post-secondary education degree-holders in the OECD who are working in jobs from which they earn half or below half of the median income, which is the commonly accepted cut-off point for poverty. Indigenous and immigrant youth face even greater challenges, as do youth with disabilities and youth already living in poverty. There is increasing evidence that many youth are beginning to question the value of any kind of post-secondary education, and that should worry us very much indeed.
A Sun Life study in 2012 also found that 86% of 18- to 24-year-olds report excessive stress attributed to underemployment or the prospects of employment or the lack thereof. The direct links between stress and mental illness are absolutely indisputable. In its 2014 report, the Chamber of Commerce stated that improving the pathways for youth from education to employment is of national importance, if not a national emergency. There is ample evidence to demonstrate that career education and support services over the lifespan as well as workplace learning opportunities produce positive education and labour market outcomes, not in isolation but as key components, and in Canada they are traditionally underused as accessible and affordable labour market and poverty reduction strategies.
I don't have time today to draw attention to some of these research results, but I'd be very pleased to give you references for your review later.
There are also, of course, major challenges. Access to career services, especially for those in transition between school and work, or between work and work, are not consistent and they're not coordinated. Career pathways for youth are fragmented, and there are huge gaps in collaboration among stakeholders, primarily educational institutions and the business community. Entry standards and clear pathways to employment in areas of skills shortage remain very unclear. Entry-level jobs are increasingly less a first step and more commonly a dead end, offering precarious work and low pay.
A review done by Maclean's in 2014 reviewed job advertisements and entry-level positions on three major career websites and showed that even for these jobs, employers were demanding two to five years of work experience. Work experience is very hard to come by, and everybody blames everybody else. The employer community blames educators for not giving them the graduates it needs. Educators blame business for not giving graduates opportunity, and inflating job qualifications. Career services are blamed for using tools that result in all of the horror stories you've heard about—things like computers spitting out that we should all be undertakers. And, of course, everybody blames governments. The blame game is getting us absolutely nowhere.
So how do you move forward and how can leadership from the career development community support you? I turn to this now.
Number one—and this is a big one—we need a national school-to-work transition strategy that is built on a solid foundation of what has worked in other countries and what is being done in pockets of excellence across Canada. We currently have no mechanism to bring the critical partners together in order to build that foundation on what has already been done and what is known to be working. Critical partners, of course, include educators, employers, career leaders, social service leaders, the mental health system, and provincial and territorial governments. We can't build such a strategy overnight, but it can be built strategically and systematically and co-operatively, and it could move us out of the blame game towards a strategic planning game.
Bringing these stakeholders together is something the federal government can do without tripping over jurisdictional boundaries. It has been done before by our own career development community and many others. There are many pockets of excellence here and internationally that we can draw on. This is likely a five-year strategy, but it's a most worthwhile one and certainly one that could begin to bring optimism to youth and marginalized groups, and at the same time it could tackle some major contributors to poverty.
The second burning issue we want to raise with you is the importance for youth to have opportunities for workplace learning. Access to work experience or co-op programs at both secondary and post-secondary levels is very limited, as is access to paid internships. Even volunteer organizations are increasingly asking for experience from those seeking to volunteer. Researchers in career development have studied access to workplace learning across Canada and have uncovered consistent trends.
The problem is not a lack of good programs; we have excellent programs. The problem is with access, implementation, and sustained funding.
We also have very few incentives to encourage employers to hire young graduates and to provide them with some job training to help them be successful. Our rate of job training for young people is way down in this country compared with in others.
We need a way to bring the business community forward so we can hear their challenges and hear about what is needed for them to be able to open more opportunities for youth, disadvantaged or otherwise. We also need to begin to work to address some of those barriers.
We'd also like to recommend consideration of programs modelled after successful former initiatives such as Youth Service Canada or maybe Katimavik, or new spinoffs you can come up with, that provide young people with practical work experience but that also benefit their communities.
This could be part of a demand-focused strategy providing young people with experience in areas of potential growth and opportunity, such as the environmental green sector.
An idea to consider would be some form of debt forgiveness. Maybe there could be one year of tuition forgiven after six months or one year of volunteering at a community-based work experience that pays them only minimum wage. We're convinced there would be enormous long-term cost savings from this kind of initiative in moving forward.
These two initiatives, creating the mechanisms for developing a national school-to-work transition strategy and building work experience in demand sectors of the economy, if undertaken in the collaborative spirit I've tried to describe, would go a long way to mitigating against what the Chamber of Commerce termed a national emergency. That may be a slight overstatement, but it's not far off the mark.
We simply can't have a labour market that's increasingly difficult for Canadians to navigate, that sets up impenetrable barriers such as no job without work experience and no chance to get it, that turns entry-level jobs into permanent precarious jobs leading to poverty, and that creates pessimism and absence of hope for the future.
We need to focus on making the school-to-work transition less fraught with dead ends. To tackle this we need to build on existing excellence, we need a framework, and we need to have mechanisms to bring the critical stakeholders to the table to help us make this happen.
Our council for career development will be allies in helping you move forward.
I thank you very much.