On March 27, 2014, CASA's National Director, Jonathan Champagne, presented on the issue of youth employment to the government's Finance Committee.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Chair, members of Parliament, fellow presenters, and guests.
I would like to extend the gratitude of students and youth from across the country for the action being taken to study the issue of youth employment. It is my pleasure to be here representing the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations. CASA consists of 24 member associations that represent 300,000 students at universities and colleges across Canada.
It will come as no surprise that today's students are concerned about finding a job after graduation. After all, students have primarily pursued post-secondary to get a leg up when entering the labour force. Unfortunately, many graduates either already know or will quickly find out that a successful transition from school to the workplace is not an easy one. This transition requires not just academic credentials but, increasingly, work experience too. A recent report from TD Economics indicated that, cumulatively, Canadian youth impacted by poor transitions to the workplace will lose over $23 billion in earnings over the next 18 years.
The added benefits of advanced education and training are clear. In 2012 there was an 11-point gap in the employment rate between youth who had completed high school and those who had completed some form of post-secondary education.
That being said, there are policies in place that are barriers for students to successfully transition into the workplace. Increasingly, students work while studying to help make ends meet. The amount of federal financial assistance available to students has remained the same for nearly a decade and the cost of an education has not.
Those who receive student loans are only allowed to earn up to $100 per week while studying before they start to have their financial assistance clawed back. Nearly six in ten upper-year students work an average of 18 hours per week. Whether it be part-time work, co-ops, internships, or other forms of work-integrated learning, penalizing students and creating disincentives for working is unfair and unnecessary. Removing these limits will create an environment that will help young people make the transition to lasting, meaningful, and gainful employment.
Poorly integrated new entrants, PINEs, as you might be aware, are a class of youth who have the skills and qualifications that make them employable but who frequently find themselves moving between temporary jobs and unemployment without being able to gain a foothold, even when the economy is growing. This is a big problem. Unfortunately, we lack the labour market data and information to be able to grasp the gravity of the situation. Recent graduates working in precarious and low-wage jobs continue to be grouped statistically with those who have secure, well-paying jobs. Better access to better information will result in better policy for government, better training for youth, and better hiring for employers.
CASA believes that a key destabilizing feature of Canada's employment landscape, one that is particularly troubling for youth, is the presence of unpaid internships. Vacant positions that should be filled by entry-level workers are instead being filled by individuals who can afford to work without compensation. This is especially troubling in a country desperate to build employment opportunities for youth. While this issue will be discussed further by other witnesses, all orders of government should immediately act to ensure that young people trying to find jobs are not offered positions that provide nothing more than trivial experience with no pay.
Youth have always had higher rates of unemployment than the general population, and we recognize that. What is most concerning about the current situation is that the transition to the workforce is becoming more challenging. It will be problematic for all society if the reality of precarious employment follows current youth throughout their lives. If nothing changes, it could cost the whole country dearly.
Thank you for your time."