Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you regarding East Prince Youth Development Centre and some of the issues the youth of Prince Edward Island are facing.
The East Prince Youth Development Centre is a non-profit organization located in Summerside, P.E.I. It's funded through our provincial government's Department of Workforce and Advanced Learning, and has been operating for over 23 years.
As an employment-assistance service centre, East Prince Youth Development Centre is unique in that it is the only youth employment centre on Prince Edward Island. It provides much-needed career support, job coaching, and life and employability skills training to youth aged 15 to 30.
However, they must be out of school. So, if there is a 15-year old who's out of school, we know there are some issues there.
While this may sound like any other employment-assistance service centre, what makes it so different is that it provides an umbrella of services. Many times there's a long road between today and employment.
Our recent stats indicate that 71% of our clients are youth at risk. This includes poverty, homelessness, addiction issues, mental health issues, criminal records, single parents, lack of education, and lack of family support. Because of this, we work very closely with probation services, social assistance departments, and addictions and mental health services.
Last year, our provincial government decided that all employment-assistance service centres would be combined, and that East Prince Youth Development Centre would be closing.
While 29% of our clients could make this transition, we were very concerned about the other 71%. We know that these clients need more than the typical employment services.
A consultant at that time told me that his research indicated that youth want consistent services across the province, and that the first thing they ask for is help with career planning. My response to this was,“You did not speak to the youth in Summerside.” The first question they typically ask us when they come into our centre is, “Can you drive me to the food bank because I haven't eaten in several days?” For many, a lot of supports are required before we get to the career planning stage.
We're very pleased that the government of P.E.I. didn't follow through with this plan. However, the future of our centre and the youth we serve is still very uncertain. We never know from one year to the next if we're going to continue to receive funding. We operate on a budget that is so limited that my air trip here cost more than our whole annual budget for marketing, travel, and professional development—and that's for all of our staff.
Finding employment for these youth is more complex than just needing to work on employment skills. They need so much more than a resumé and a cover letter. Many young people are dealing with complex barriers, like homelessness, experience with the criminal justice system, food insecurities, young children, the effects of childhood trauma, and mental health challenges.
For youth with disabilities, additional challenges include a lack of previous work experience and obtaining appropriate accommodations at work. These youth are not reaching their full potential, and they're falling through the cracks.
I listened to Minister Hajdu speak to this standing committee on November 28, and I was very pleased to hear her say that employers are looking for staff with good soft skills, and essential skills such as time management and teamwork. This is something we were teaching for many years, until 2015, when we were told by Service Canada that we could no longer deliver life or parenting skills through our Skills Link program, Parent Power.
This is a program we had been delivering for over 15 years to single parents who were on social assistance and had no work experience and absolutely no self esteem. Many didn't know where to turn for help to deal with everyday issues, such as nutritious food for their family or how to interact with others. Even with numerous cuts to our program over the years, our success rate in getting them employed was 88%.
I'm sad to say that we did not receive any Skills Link funding this year, and our program has been cancelled. That was a three-year call for proposals last year, so it looks as though we will not be receiving any funding, at least until past 2020.
I feel that experiential learning and pathways to employment for Canadian youth are a good start. However, government departments, such as workforce and advanced learning, education, and social assistance, need to work more closely together.
That needs to include youth at risk while they are still in school. We need to be talking to these youth in their comfort zones: on the streets, at the soup kitchen, or outside the local convenience store.
For the past two summers, we've been delivering a program for high school students from low-income families. That seems to be helping to keep them in school. The process we're aiming for is to put them on the path of going for post-secondary education. However, they come to us with little or no hope. They're not involved with school sports or any other extracurricular activities, because they don't have the money and they don't have the confidence.
One of the simplest things we take for granted, or most of us do, is having a social insurance number. Youth cannot get a job without a social insurance number. They can't get a social insurance number without a birth certificate. They can't get a birth certificate without having $35 in their pocket.
For many, this means a decision between food for their kids or a birth certificate. Also, if they do get some support from social assistance, they are not allowed to attend upgrading during the day. They are supposed to be looking for work. Well, where are they going to get a job without even a grade 12 education?
There are some great government programs in place, such as career focus, Canada Summer Jobs, and career connect, but I feel that more needs to be done for our youth at risk.