Great expectations

Opportunities and challenges alike lie ahead for young workers in Newfoundland and Labrador

The labour movement has been concerned about the issues of young workers for some time now. In the last five years in particular, the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour (NLFL) has set specific strategies, goals and policies to make room in our movement for young members.

At our last Triennial Convention, for example, delegates passed constitutional changes to increase young workers’ participation within the Federation of Labour. Most noteworthy, local unions can send additional youth delegates to conventions, where the work of the Federation is determined and prioritized. Our youth committee has been mandated to increase its political work and has been busy doing that on behalf of all young workers. The labour movement continues to ally with young workers in the student, women and social justice communities in identifying those issues which will create more room and more equality for young workers in their unions, in the labour market and in their communities.

The NLFL vice president representing young workers has been appointed to the provincial government’s Advisory Council on Youth Issues. This will allow us to have a voice at the table and bring our ideas, experiences and issues forward.

Organizing for the future

We have long recognized the need for collaboration between unions, employers and governments on labour market issues. This is especially true when we talk about youth attraction and retention.

In Newfoundland and Labrador’s current economic climate, both employers and potential workers are concerned about prospects for youth employment. While the province’s economic performance has been steadily improving over the past several years, youth unemployment and subsequent outmigration remains a significant issue.

Unions can now send additional youth delegates to labour conventions to have a more active role in decision-making processes. Photo courtesy of NL Federation of Labour.
Unions can now send additional youth delegates to labour conventions to have a more active role in decision-making processes. Photo courtesy NL Federation of Labour.

Earlier this year, working with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ Nova Scotia chapter, the NLFL released a report called Great Expectations: Opportunities and Challenges for Young Workers in Newfoundland and Labrador.

This report draws on the experience and insights of youth and employers, and serves as a check-in on the extensive research previously undertaken to develop a Youth Attraction and Retention Strategy for the province.

It identifies clear tensions between the needs and expectations of young workers and employers’ ability to create opportunities and working environments to deal with such challenges.

Key findings

The report identifies challenges in three main areas and makes a series of recommendations for finding solutions to attracting and retaining youth in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Underlying all these challenges are issues of understanding, communication and perceptions. There are often mismatched expectations between employers and young people looking for work. This begs the question: How can we better align those expectations with reality and provide the policy and program supports to make it work? Who do we need to engage and work with to achieve the necessary solutions?

Accessing the labour market: In terms of accessing the labour market, young people in this province find it difficult to accept low-wage, precarious work, of which there is an abundance, in large part because of student debt loads. They struggle to navigate paths between higher education and career development. Gender also impacts women’s labour market participation. Affordable housing, and lack of affordable childcare are also huge issues which often factor into decisions about whether to stay in Newfoundland and Labrador or move elsewhere for work.

Experience, skills and training: The report finds that unrealistic demands related to work experience are barriers to participation. There is also a lack of clarity about the level, type and amount of training that employers are responsible for providing to their employees. Employers also expect that workers already have their skills developed, particularly soft skills, which is often not the case.

Organizational challenges: Finally, organizational challenges impact attraction and retention, particularly for small businesses and other organizations. Size and capacity are critical here, and smaller organizations simply do not have the same capabilities and flexibilities as larger ones. Furthermore, policies and programs for young people and employers alike are confusing and difficult to navigate. And although union coverage actually aids young workers and protects them, there is not always enough information available for them to understand this.

What to do about all this?

The report suggests three actions for government, employers and unions to help us begin to effectively deal with the issue of youth attraction and retention. It urges government first and foremost to engage youth in any discussions around strategy and the development of policies and programs.

Michael Walsh of the Canadian Federation of Students speaking at the Federation of Labour convention. Photo courtesy NL Federation of Labour.
Michael Walsh of the Canadian Federation of Students speaking at the Federation of Labour convention. Photo courtesy NL Federation of Labour.

The report further recommends that any strategy needs to include a gender analysis and attention to the diversity of workers’ needs. Strategies should include the reduction and elimination of tuition fees, the expansion of needs-based grants for post-secondary education, the provision of affordable childcare, affordable housing, and other family-friendly policies, programs and services which help to address quality of life and cost of living issues currently facing young workers in the province.

These solutions can also incorporate a population growth strategy for our province.

There needs to be more accurate and timely labour market information made available in Newfoundland and Labrador (and indeed, the country). This would be particularly helpful in dispelling the myths and panic about labour shortages and the so-called “jobs-skills mismatch”.

Government, employers and unions can learn and share best practices from other jurisdictions, both past and present. This will help solidify strategies to ensure young workers have opportunities to meaningfully contribute to the future of the province and that the province can benefit from their contribution.

Such strategies could include, but not be limited to, reducing journeyperson-to-apprentice ratios in the trades, transferring accreditation hours, providing accessible and meaningful career planning programming for high school students, reconsidering experience requirements and standards for required training for new job entrants, ensuring better soft skills training at the secondary school level, providing incentives for unconventional recruiting and retention strategies, and ensuring that young workers are made aware of their rights as workers and union members. These are all great suggestions that come out of this report — all realistic solutions that can and should be explored.

Our government has long talked about making this province a place where our youth can stay, where our expatriates can return to work and raise their families, and where youth from other provinces and places may find an attractive place to live. This report offers a way to continue the discussion, engage young people in the process, and make it happen.

We’ve done the research. Will government now follow through with the necessary action?

Editor’s note: If you would like to respond to this or any article on, or if you would like to address an issue we haven’t yet covered, we welcome letters to the editor and consider each of them for publication in our Letters section. You can email yours to: justin at theindependent dot ca. Not all letters will be printed, but all will be read.

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