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Workshop speaks to rise in youth unemployment

Last Friday, a discussion and workshop on combining global and local perspectives on youth unemployment was co-hosted by the Aga Khan Foundation of Canada (AKFC) and the Institute for the Study of International Development (ISID). The AKFC is a non-profit international development agency that works to improve health, education, rural development, and civil society in Africa and Asia. The panel of speakers at the event included Abdul Malik, general manager of the Aga Khan Rural Support Program in Pakistan; Erin Markel, principal consultant at MarketShare Associates; and Darlene Hnatchuk, director of Career Planning Service (CaPS) at McGill University.

The panel held a moderated discussion following an introduction by Co-organizer and AKFC Public Affairs advisor Sarah Power and a presentation on definitions of youth unemployment and underemployment by Markel. The attendees then participated in a workshop to generate solutions to the global and local problems surrounding youth unemployment, such as incorporating job search skills into school curricula and taking advantage of social media as a platform for sharing ideas.

“[Youth unemployment] is a growing issue, but it also doesn’t just affect youth themselves,” Markel said. “It has a huge economic and social cost to communities as well as to governments and nations, so a lot of people are starting to pay close attention to this on the global scale.”

Markel explained that according to the International Labour Board, young people are more than three times more likely than adults to be unemployed, and about 13 per cent of all young people in the world are unemployed. She also brought up the issue of underemployment and youth inactivity as factors contributing to the global youth unemployment phenomenon.

“Underemployment refers to people who are overqualified for their work,” she said. “Youth who tend to be described as inactive also tend to be at the highest risk of remaining inactive, or at the highest risk of poverty in the long run. This means young people who are not employed and aren’t in school.”

During the moderated discussion, Malik explained the role his program plays in helping improve local economic infrastructure, sector development, and entrepreneurship in remote areas of northern Pakistan. He also described the issues faced by unemployed young people in Pakistan and compared them to the ones facing Canadian youth.

“In terms of challenges for young people in finding jobs, one is the obvious issue of finding economic opportunities,” Malik said. “The second [problem] is the issue of skills. The educated youth who come out of schools come out with a lot of degrees, but not necessarily with marketable skills. A third issue is of social norms. Particularly for women, some parts of the area where we work is very conservative and when it comes to women, their mobility tends to be limited.”

The problem of youth lacking employable skills is one faced in Canada as well, according to Hnatchuk.

“There is an expectation or assumption that graduates will have specifically relevant experience to the job that they are applying for,” Hnatchuk said.

However, ‘soft skills’ appear to often be the missing link between youth and employers, according to Hnatchuk.

“It’s not necessarily always the technical skills that [employers are] missing,” Hnatchuk said. “CEOs, hiring managers, human resources—they’re saying that their priorities in terms of hiring are looking for people who have interpersonal skills, communication skills, problem solving skills, and analytical skills.”

U3 Arts and Science Alicia, who attended the event said she was impressed with how the conference addressed the global context of unemployment, but expressed concerns about career resources and opportunities in Canada.

“I’m also in the job market right now, and I’m finding it frustrating because I was under the impression that the degree I’m getting would [involve] enough tangible skills to be able to fit in the job market,” she said. “But those tangible skills don’t translate into what I want to do.”

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