The key to reforming the job market is to re-energize the youth market. A debate held at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, focused on young workers as the solution to reclaiming five years of lost financial ground.
Youth are three times more likely to be unemployed, according to an International Labor Organization report. Meanwhile, an astounding number of mid-level, middle-class jobs have withered away in a cold economic climate.
So, how does Ottawa’s business landscape fare with these dour employment levels? New initiatives that bring in business volunteers to schools to mentor students about financial literacy and entrepreneurship are popping up around the city, but these programs are scant and still developing.
When labour disputes subside, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board would be wise to invest in connecting more local companies with potential future employees: those of a high-school age, and even younger.
The close ties between teens and upper management could not only motivate students to pursue business at university, but help them dip their feet into the local working environment. As a result, more young people may become involved in shaping the city’s growing business landscape once they graduate, as employees and entrepreneurs.
A recent story in the Ottawa Business Journal suggested that students who get business experience at university are more inclined to stick around their alma mater’s city and pursue a career.
Many Ottawa high school students head out of town for university, so linking youths with local companies at a younger age can have long-term benefits. If Ottawa businesses can network more closely with students, there may be a greater awareness among youths of the career opportunities available.
A few initiatives that connect companies with classrooms in Ottawa are already working. One is the Junior Achievement program, which is available in 123 countries and in 15 cities across Canada.
In the JA program, volunteers from local businesses, such as the Royal Bank of Canada and IBM, come in to classrooms. They share their work experiences and mentor students about financial literacy. In Grade 5, students form an assembly line and learn about productivity. In higher grades, students compete in an online business simulation as managers of different tech companies.
JA is offered to schools at no charge, with the sponsors picking up the costs. The program, which runs in 25 schools across Ottawa, seeks to register more than 30 new schools before the 2012/2013 session finishes, says Albert Wong, director of Ottawa’s JA program.
Another way to ensure more involvement with students in business endeavours is to alter the community service requirement. Currently, students in Ontario must complete 40 hours of community service through four years of high-school.
Since changing the provincial 40-hour standard would likely be difficult, individual schools may want to push forward for another requirement: to complete a certain amount of job training or to take part in a co-op placement with a business sometime during four years of high school.
Damien Martin, the education and youth services co-ordinator for Volunteer Ottawa, says that his organization often shies away from enlisting with paid businesses. Instead, Volunteer Ottawa helps encourage students to volunteer with non-profit companies and charities.
These efforts are noble and important, but there should also be an opportunity to push dedicated students forward to interning or helping out with paying firms during their high-school years.
This can give students a feel for the world of local business, while allowing managers the chance to look out for aspiring entrepreneurs who can be valuable to their enterprise in the future.
By increasing student involvement with local companies, there are more opportunities for youth to gain work experience that can impress a future employer, commit them to pursuing a city job, and – perhaps most important – enhance their education.