Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, for the invitation to appear before the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.
I am happy that the committee has decided to study the matter of experiential learning for Canadian youth. Investing in experiential learning has proven very lucrative for the young people who join the labour market. Being given an opportunity to learn about one's profession is particularly important for vulnerable youth who might not have the opportunity to do so otherwise. I thank you for doing this important work.
This afternoon I'd like to discuss the multiple measures our government is putting in place to address this situation and the results we've achieved to date on this issue. I'm also going to give you a broad overview of the kinds of enduring challenges that our country will be facing in the coming years and how we intend to respond as we move forward.
First of all, investing in work-integrated learning pays huge dividends in the success of young people in the labour market. Getting a foot in the door or a chance to learn about the profession is particularly critical for vulnerable youth as well, who might not have the opportunity to get that chance otherwise. We need to provide youth with the tools, the education, the training, and the opportunities they need to fully succeed in their chosen careers.
Around the world, the labour market is evolving, and we need to keep pace. Job requirements continue to change, and workers' credentials are not necessarily matching the skills that employers are seeking. We need to put greater emphasis on essential skills and something that employers tell me about all the time: soft skills, such as how to manage a difficult employee and how to answer a phone and provide good customer service no matter what occupation you're in, as well as digital skills.
We need to make sure that all young Canadians have a fair chance to succeed. Providing opportunities for workplace experience is an important part of our effort to do just that, as work experience is critical to a successful transition for youth from school to work. These opportunities benefit young people. Of course, employers often offer higher starting salaries to graduates who have work placement experience.
Apprenticeship is also a proven model for transitioning into well-paying jobs in the skilled trades, which are in such great demand. In fact, more than 80% of apprentices were successful in securing employment in 2015.
I'm going to give you some examples of what we've put in place to support Canada's young people to help them transition to the workplace.
The facts show that work experience is the key to a successful transition for youth. Employers generally offer high starting salaries to graduates who have practical experience. The labour market is evolving, and the help we provide to facilitate the transition from school to the workplace must follow suit.
We've provided learning opportunities through the career focus stream of the youth employment strategy, which supported over 6,500 youth in finding work placements in 2016-17. We've also nearly doubled Canada Summer Jobs compared to the previous government.
We recently launched a new partnership with industry and post-secondary education institutes to offer 10,000 new work-integrated learning placements for students in the STEM fields and business, with an investment of $73 million over four years. In addition to our investments in student placements through Mitacs, we'll help create up to 60,000 paid work placements over the next five years.
We've also put in place measures to ensure that young Canadians are always appropriately compensated for their work placement internships. Bill C-63 includes amendments to the Canada Labour Code that would prohibit unpaid internships within federally regulated private sectors unless they are part of the requirements for an educational program and ensure that interns who are unpaid are covered by labour standard protections such as maximum hours of work, weekly days of rest, and general holidays.
We know that young people make better decisions about their education and career path when they have good data and information that helps them make those decisions. The OECD and other research confirms that good-quality and timely information and advice play an important role in informing young people's aspirations. For this reason, we've enhanced the Canada job bank, and we're going to continue to modernize it with current technology platforms so that it will be youth-centred and user-friendly, something that all the young people in my life are quite excited about.
On another note, I cannot stress enough how much financial assistance is essential to removing barriers to post-secondary education. We've made very important enhancements in this area. For example, we increased non-repayable Canada student grants by 50% and made them available to more students from low- and middle-income families. This means that starting in the 2017-18 school year, over 400,000 students from low- and middle-income families will receive up to $3,000 in non-repayable financial aid each and every year. Approximately 46,000 of those students will be eligible for the first time for the Canada student grant for full-time students.
We've also introduced a fixed student contribution, allowing students who work to continue to do so without having to worry about a reduction in the amount of financial assistance they will receive. Now no student has to repay a Canada student loan until they're earning at least $25,000 a year.
We've also renewed our investment in Pathways to Education Canada for an additional four years, starting in 2018-19. If you haven't found out about this program yet, I highly encourage you to take a look. This program works to make sure that at-risk youth are able to complete high school and transition to post-secondary studies.
We continue to make significant efforts to increase the take-up of the Canada learning bond. In May of 2017 an important milestone was reached: one million Canadian children are now enrolled and have more affordable post-secondary education in their future. Last week we launched a call for concepts, which is really our way to look for new and innovative ways to increase awareness and uptake of the Canada learning bond. We encourage organizations with ideas to submit their concepts by January 16, 2018.
The renewal of the youth employment strategy, or YES, gives us a really good opportunity to work with all our partners to ensure that young Canadians have all the necessary support that they need to succeed. The youth employment strategy has already produced results for young people, real results across the country over the last 20 years, but we have to acknowledge that a lot has happened in the last 20 years. Times have changed.
In addition, we are just beginning to explore the renewed Youth Employment Strategy. Your study will help to guide our work.
Your work will ensure that we can understand the new needs of young people across this country. It will also help us to understand the measures that are working well and need to stay the same, as well as what kinds of things need to change to make sure we're reaching our target goal—namely, that every young person across this country has the supports they need to access post-secondary education and to access the kinds of experiences that will help them move forward in meaningful work, good middle-class jobs, across this country.
The current study of the committee will undoubtedly greatly inform our work. Through this renewal, we're exploring four key areas for action: one, supporting smoother transitions from school to work; two, helping young people develop skills to keep pace with the changing nature of work; three, helping vulnerable youth to meet their potential; and finally, exploring how employers could play a greater leadership role in youth employment.
Provincial, territorial, and municipal governments, along with numerous stakeholders, also play a critical role, as they provide a range of supports for youth. We'll be looking at how we can increase and amplify our partnerships with all of our stakeholders. I'm very interested in learning more about how others in Canada are supporting youth transitions into the labour market. I'm also interested in lessons from other countries. We can all benefit from sharing best practices from the experiences of others in Canada and internationally.
Youth need opportunities to be active citizens and community leaders. Service and volunteer experience is another way in which young people can build skills and personal growth while giving back to the community. We'll soon be launching the design phase of a new youth service initiative. Youth will be directly engaged to build a program that responds to their interests and serves their community. This means we'll be building a program that has been designed by youth, for youth.
Mr. Chair and members of the committee, we know that Canada's future prosperity depends on young Canadians getting the skills and experience that they need to succeed and that employers are looking for. This is an essential way that we can continue to ensure a growing economy in a way that works for everyone. Successful transitions from school to work represent a socio-economic win-win for us: students get the hands-on experience they need to succeed and employers find the talent they're desperately seeking.
Active, healthy citizens who are pursuing their aspirations and driving economic growth are critical for us to change and adapt this economy, which brings new challenges but, I believe, great opportunity for Canada. I have every confidence that Canadian young people will seize those opportunities if we help pave the way. We just can't afford to leave so much talent behind. We can't afford to see young Canadians either not pursuing their education or not getting jobs aligned with their skills and training, so the study that this committee is undertaking right now is extremely timely. It will greatly inform our work, and I'm very glad you've chosen it.
Thank you so much for inviting me.