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Creating better, more sustainable employment opportunities for local youth


When youth have access to employment and employment supports, their level of independence and financial security increases, and they are better equipped to grow their networks for long-term economic, social, and employment success.  

If they don’t have access or support, their opportunities in precarious employment increase, they may end up in lower-income jobs, or they may require more subsidy programs to achieve financial security.  

As we work toward envisioning an equitable economic recovery, post COVID-19, we want to better understand the barriers and location-specific circumstances that affect access to employment for youth in the East Ontario region, particularly underrepresented youth from marginalized backgrounds.  

Our latest report explores these issues, and potential solutions we can consider, as we work to increase youth employment opportunities and make employment more equitable.  

Highlighting issues key to building a better future 

Local youth are facing a rising unemployment rate, precarious employment opportunities (retail, food services, tourism, and hospitality), and the COVID-19 pandemic, which has exacerbated access to employment.  

The goal of this report is to highlight the barriers to employment faced by youth in East Ontario and understand where there are broad commonalities and nuances based on location.  

As community partners look ahead to future funding and building strategies to drive an equitable economic recovery from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, this report is intended to highlight opportunities to drive impact and help identify areas for collaboration when targeting specific issues, particularly those related to infrastructure.

We began our discussion of youth unemployment in the report by learning more about community demographics, which specifically revealed that youth unemployment has long been a concern in communities across East Ontario.  

 Statistics from the 2016 census show the unemployment rate for youth between the ages of 15 and 24 was triple that of individuals ages 25 to 64. As well, young workers are more likely than their older peers to hold unstable jobs that do not offer full-time hours or benefits, specifically in the retail, food services and accommodations sectors.  

The COVID-19 pandemic has further marginalized youth in employment. Specifically, these young workers are being hit on two fronts: they have borne the disproportionate burdens of being in frontline work, as well as the economic consequences of lost wages and lost employment. The latter is due, in part, to multiple public health-related shutdowns and reduced revenues with much slower rates of recovery than is seen in jobs held by their older peers. 

What can we do about it? 

To improve employment for young people, a successful and equitable economic recovery post-pandemic will rely on improved supports (social, educational, financial, etc.) and structures that serve youth in our communities.  

It will also require support from educators, job seekers, service providers and employers, to ensure that youth have the tools, knowledge, skills, and opportunities to succeed in their local labour markets and future careers. There also needs to be a deeper understanding of marginalized youth and their different experiences.  

That’s why it is important to address employment, not just on the level of unemployment for youth (as a broad demographic), but how we can improve opportunities, access, and employment outcomes for youth with disabilities, Indigenous youth, newcomer youth, and racialized youth, including Black youth, and 2SLGBTQ+ youth. 

What are the barriers to youth employment in East Ontario? 

Youth may experience many different challenges or barriers to equitable employment, such as a lack of transportation, reduced access to post-secondary education and supports, or language barriers.  

Each of these challenges may impact each person differently, depending on the intersections of their identity or where they live. And although most of these barriers are not unique to East Ontario, it is important to understand the nuances of the communities we support.

Some of the main obstacles we have identified include: 

  • Lacking post-secondary education or access to educational and career support for post-graduate employment opportunities 
  • Not feeling a sense of belonging in the workplace once entering the labour market 
  • A lack of accessible services, both physically and non-physically (they may be cultural in scope, too expensive to afford, or are non-existent, e.g., transportation in rural communities, etc.) 
  • A lack of social capital and job literacy (access to interpersonal networks and support for interviews, resume-building, etc.)  
  • Infrastructure barriers (transportation, Wi-Fi/universal broadband access in rural versus urban communities, etc.) 
  • Opportunity costs (via education, apprenticeships, etc.) 
  • Language barriers (if English or French are not a youth’s first language or they are not bilingual with these two languages) 

Is a youth’s experience the same in urban and rural communities? 

It is quite a different experience for youth who live in primarily rural communities like Lanark County, Renfrew County and the United Counties of Prescott and Russell than it is for youth who live in more urban communities like the City of Ottawa.  

In urban settings, there is usually easier access to supports, both in person and online. Youth in urban settings may have better access to public transportation or internet, and thus may have more opportunities or support. In urban settings, youth are also closer to post-secondary institutions (the City of Ottawa has two universities and two colleges). While youth in rural settings in East Ontario have two hub campuses of an Ottawa-based college, they still have less local access to post-secondary institutions. 

In rural settings, access to opportunities and supports is predicated on access to transportation, as well as access to internet/wi-fi/universal broadband. Further, opportunities for youth may also be predicated on the level of education a child’s parent has, with rates of post-secondary graduation tending to be lower in rural communities.  

Rural communities also face certain infrastructure issues that aren’t as prevalent in urban communities, particularly the cost of transportation and internet. Some solutions to overcoming these barriers include providing access to after-school supports and building programming for soft-skills training. To address these solutions, there needs to be an understanding on how lower median incomes of households can affect a child’s access to programming. 

Why is it important to recognize a youth’s unique experiences as part of their employment journey? 

In order to offer all youth the opportunity for employment, every part of their identity needs to be considered.  

That’s why we recognize a youth’s intersectional identity.  

This means we recognize the different identity factors that make up that individual and how these are connected in a way that shapes their values, views of the world, and personal experiences.  

When we understand the diverse intersections of an individual’s identity, we can better act to improve opportunities, access, and employment for all youth – including youth with disabilities, Indigenous youth, newcomer youth, racialized youth, including Black youth, and 2SLGBTQ+ youth.  

How can the community come together to make a positive change for youth? 

Educators, in both K-12 and post-secondary settings, can offer mentorship programs, co-ops, and internship opportunities that are built into the curricula, or degree programming, which will allow students access to career supports during education. They can build in job literacy and self-marketing into curricula to aid youth with best practices for job searches and how to be aware of opportunities, requirements, and supports in place for success.  

All of this must be provided with access to transportation to ensure youth have the full opportunity to participate in programming.  

Employers can ensure postings and applications are accessible for all job seekers in both official languages, while also offering postings to community groups in other first languages of individuals accessing employment opportunities.

Employers can also consider community partnerships with youth, service providers, and educational institutions that allow them to play active roles in setting expectations about job literacy, job skills, and career paths, being part of the educational process for youth.

They can use existing resources and networks like EARN or HIO to stay informed on best practices and improve their ability to recruit from underrepresented talent pools. While doing this, employers can encourage active recruitment of underrepresented groups by signaling accessibility as well as their eagerness to include these potential employees.  

All of this must again be offered in an accessible way (should youth have trouble with transportation or internet supports), with a direct focus on ensuring these solutions are offered in both official languages, and with an option of accessing the support or materials in first languages that are not English or French. 

What is United Way East Ontario committed to doing? 

We are committed to research and advocacy for people with disabilities so they can access employment supports and achieve equitable employment. 

We will continue to provide workshops through EARN, HIO, and other community initiatives to provide support to employers and educators (along with other community stakeholders) to assist youth in their job searches.  

We will advocate for disaggregated data to guide the research we and other community organizations do.  

We will work to establish partnerships between employers and service providers to assist youth in their search for employment.  

We will also convene community, education, and employment stakeholders to discuss current practices, and how to break barriers youth face for employment, while working to reinforce protocols and supports that youth can access in their communities for their journey to employment. 




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The partnership between LiveWorkPlay and United Way, through the Employment Accessibility Resource Network (EARN), demonstrates the positive change that can be achieved when organizations join forces to promote inclusivity.

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