Although youth (ages 17-30) in Canada make up only 12 percent of the nation’s labour force, in the early days of the pandemic they accounted for a quarter of the country’s job losses. With immigrant youth already facing other barriers to employment, World Education Services (WES) and the Canadian Council for Youth Prosperity (CCYP) have partnered to examine the problem and generate solutions.
On February 8 and 9, 2022, WES and CCYP held a National Town Hall on workforce development for immigrant youth. Its aim was to facilitate knowledge sharing and stakeholder collaboration to improve labour market outcomes among immigrant and refugee youth.
The two-day virtual event engaged more than 100 participants representing immigrant and refugee youth, organizations within the settlement sector, employers, and policymakers from across the country, along with members of the National Roundtable.
Day One was a youth-only (ages 17-30) event that spotlighted the experiences of immigrant youth and sparked discussions on the challenges and opportunities facing the next generation of young professionals and community leaders. Keynote speaker Rebecca Darwent of the Foundation for Black Communities shared her journey in the aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis and the challenges she faced trying to break into the labour market.
“I stopped looking for myself in places that were not built for me,” she told the virtual audience. “And I learned that if something doesn’t exist, then create it!” Darwent further emphasized the benefits to youth of establishing networks and unlocking the hidden potential of peers, colleagues, and community members as they shape their career pathways during a global pandemic.
Immigrant youth stressed the unique challenges they face when seeking employment:
- They did not have a map or blueprint from parents or peers explaining what to do directly after finishing school. Many were unsure about where to find jobs and how to network.
- They encountered bias based on their name, where they lived, the country they came from, lack of work experience in their field, and in some cases their postal code.
- They felt that they needed more education to be successful; this was especially true f those who believed their international degrees and work experience were not valued in Canada given their lack of “Canadian experience.”
- They experienced mental health challenges from reduced work hours during the pandemic, financial instability, and uncertainty about the future.
- They noted technology challenges, particularly during the first year of the pandemic. Some did not have reliable internet access, making it difficult to submit online applications.
- The international students reported that fragmented information about services available to them was a major barrier to accessing the support they needed.
- They found that COVID-19 had impacted their ability to identify employment opportunities that could build on their skills and develop their work experience (for example, internships, summer programs, volunteer opportunities, and so on).
Proposed Solutions to Get Started
Day Two was an all-stakeholders event to discuss and share strategies and best practices for supporting immigrant youth seeking to enter and thrive in the labour market. Ontario Poet Laureate Randell Adjei kicked off Day Two with an inspirational keynote and poetry performance, and stressed the need for programs that holistically support immigrant youth through initiatives that are co-designed by the youth themselves.
Among the ways to start addressing some of the barriers that immigrant youth face, participants highlighted:
- Immigrant youth bring with them unique value and perspectives. We need to see them as an asset and highlight their voices in program planning and delivery.
- Immigrant youth want to be actively included in the process and appropriately compensated for their time and work.
- Showcasing people of colour and diverse and inclusive teams will help immigrant youth see themselves in these spaces and possible careers.
- Expanding information sharing practices; many youths use social media for information gathering and to build connections.
- There is a need for more policies that focus on immigrant and refugee youth specifically, including incentives for employers to hire youth (for example, wage subsidies).
- There is a need to share best practices among those working with immigrant youth and international students from all regions to build wider collaboration and support.
The National Town Hall surfaced many perspectives and approaches to tackling workforce development challenges confronting immigrant youth in Canada. WES and CCYP have been working with partners to research, analyze, and incorporate what the stakeholders and immigrant youth themselves shared into the State of Immigrant Youth report (to be published later).
Canada’s immigrant youth population is estimated to be nearly three million strong and growing. As pandemic recovery planning gets underway, it is critical to ensure that this demographic is a key piece of Canada’s economic recovery strategy. Immigrant and refugee youth are the future of work in Canada, and their success in the labour market is ultimately a win for us all.