Youth unemployment has been much-talked about for several years. It is at double-digit levels in many countries, and is currently 13.6% in Canada compared to 7.0% unemployment overall.
The current fragile state of the world economy is not helping. As the GDP and output suffers around the world, so sadly does youth employment. Unlocking the full potential of Canada’s diverse talent and especially our youth is what will give Canada’s economy the edge over other industrialized nations in the coming years.
In addition to a sluggish economy, young people face particular challenges when entering the labour market. Among these are: lack of experience; limited on-the-job training during an economic downturn; and lack of seniority that correlates to higher chances of losing their jobs in early rounds of layoffs.
While the forecasted GDP growth in 2013 for the overall Canadian economy has been revised down to below 2%, Canada’s digital economy is on a different trajectory. On average, annual growth of the ICT sector has been over 4% since 2001, almost twice as much as the overall economy’s growth.
The current jobless rate in ICT occupations is 2.8%, and we estimate that by 2016 we will require 106,000 people to fill critical positions. This number is much higher when you factor in the prevalent adoption of technology in other sectors of the economy prompting an intensified need for workers with digital and ICT skills (oil & gas, manufacturing, health, banking, etc.).
It is anticipated that much of the future growth in this economy will be fuelled by small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Our emerging digital sector research on the apps economy, (http://www.ictc-ctic.ca/?page_id=8183) and other soon-to-be-published research on cloud services, mobile, and digital media platforms all point to sectors that are growing by over 25% per year.
Preparing the workforce of the future will be critical to our economy and who better to bring on board than our “born-digital” generation that is naturally attuned to this environment.
So what is the solution base here? The answer may depend on many factors, among them:
- Broader awareness: Creating awareness among youth, their parents, educators, and career counsellors is important to enhance the “appeal” factor of careers in the digital economy. Our research indicates that the employability potential of appropriately skilled individuals in the digital economy is two times higher than that of other sectors of the economy. The expected average salary upon graduating from a college or university is around $60,000. There is also strong career mobility potential between sectors making careers in ICT an attractive proposition, especially as ICTs become common currency across all sectors. Our Focus on Information Technology program (FIT) http://www.focusit.ca/ is a program designed to attract young people to careers in ICT. The two-year high-school program was developed in conjunction with industry and facilitates a path for high-school students to develop the necessary technical, business and interpersonal skills they’ll need to lead the way in our new, wired world. The rapid adoption of the FIT program by over 150 high schools across the country is a testament to the importance of instilling digital skills in our youth to prepare them for tomorrow’s jobs and of enhancing the “appeal” of the sector and its opportunities for youth.
- Employment Preparedness: Many studies point to a widening skills gap and highlight the importance of enhanced partnerships between employers and post-secondary institutions. On-the-job experience in terms of coop, internship, or mentorship programs is vital to equip our youth with real work experience. Such programs help youth hone strengths, understand work culture, and build important connections with employers. Among many programs targeting youth, ICTC’s “Career Focus” program http://www.ictc-ctic.ca/?page_id=1781 (funded by the Government of Canada) helps place youth in small- and medium-sized organizations and give them on-the-job experience, and enhance their future employability factor.
- Nurturing entrepreneurship: Young people who grew up around the turn of the century are also more likely to want to set up their own business according to widely available research. Cultivating entrepreneurship is a driving force for enabling innovations, and creating future jobs. This can be maximized through enabling strategies that overcome the barriers for doing business. Such barriers include: limited skills and business experience; limited knowledge of legal frameworks; an unsophisticated credit history, and difficulty in connecting with key business networks.
There are many programs in Canada to help young entrepreneurs chart paths for success in the business world. Among those is the Digital Media Zone (DMZ) at Ryerson University, one of Canada’s largest incubator and multi-disciplinary co-working space for young entrepreneurs. More of such success stories are needed in Canada to help emerging leaders fast-track their product launches and grow their companies in Canada.
On June 4, 2013, the Embassy of France in collaboration with the ICTC and the DMZ at Ryerson University will be hosting an exchange session on “Building Digital Skills” with several leaders from industry, academia, and policy makers. The youth engagement and preparedness agenda will be an important theme in this discussion.
Empowering youth in the digital economy is an important priority for us at ICTC. If you’re interested in championing this cause and working with us on solutions and actions to advance this agenda in Canada, we look forward to hearing from you.