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Changing the dialogue, asking the questions through a wellbeing lens

Originally submitted as a Guest Blog for Vital Signs, January 10, 2013

Sometimes we are tempted to minimize the challenges of others or blame them for their own predicaments. Since the 2008 recession, Canadian youth face life and employment challenges more so than many others. How many times have you heard that the transition from school to the workplace, underemployment or no employment at all, and student debt load is just a ‘rite of passage?’ Or that youth don’t have the skills to compete for jobs in their chosen field. Or if they cannot get a job, they should start a business. Let’s hope the Toronto Star’s recent Atkinson series Good Work Hunting: In Search of Answers for the Young and Jobless, can help stop this chatter.

In October, the Canadian Index of Wellbeing released its second national report, How are Canadians Really Doing?, on the wellbeing of Canadians. What did we conclude? That using GDP presumes that economic growth equals a better quality of life, but fails to take into account the sacrifices in wellbeing made to achieve that growth. That the recession hit Canadians harder than economic numbers have indicated and the decline in wellbeing continues despite some subsequent economic recovery. That we have less time to ourselves, more stress, lower job quality and economic security, soaring unemployment, and persistent income inequality. And yet our sense of community continues to grow and we depend on our ability to come together and remain united around shared values.

In October 2012, the Community Foundations of Canada released its Vital Signs Report entitled #GenerationFlux. It reported on the challenges faced by our younger generation. Between the CIW and the Vital Youth reports, there is a troubling connection between the economy, our wellbeing, and specifically, the wellbeing of Canada’s youth.

While the CIW Living Standards domain reports that the percentage of Canadians in the labour force experiencing long-term unemployment has decreased by 51.7% and the percentage of the labour force currently employed has increased 5.5% over a 17-year period, these trends haven’t translated into opportunities for Canadian youth. Youth unemployment is double the national average, and a third of all 25 to 29 year olds with post-secondary education have moved into low-skilled occupations.

When you couple these with an increased debt load, what happens to wellbeing?

#GenerationFlux reports that even though youth are actively involved in community, looser networks, and projects that are replacing structured organizations, they are also part of the 80% of Canadians who are volunteering. Are youth volunteering because they have no employment options and are looking for ways into the job market in lieu of co-op and shrinking internship programs? Is this an effective strategy?

What would a transition strategy from education to employment look like?

If we want to foster the values of continued education in our youth, how can we help them with the path from secondary school, to post-secondary education, to the workforce? Our attention and aid shouldn’t end with the diploma. Can we shift financial aid, loan repayment, and other systems to focus on helping youth find employment after graduation and establishing themselves more fully in the community?

Solutions to increase the success of the education to employment transition are possible. Just ask our young people. Young people are flexible and capable of advocating for change. #Generation Flux highlights youth as having new skills to navigate the new realities of a rapidly changing world of technology and emerging global issues. The CIW report recommends using technology and web-based platforms like electronic democracy to engage young people, thereby increasing their voice - not just in their future, but in our future as well.

Lynne Slotek is Associate Director, Knowledge Mobilisation and Catherine Zagar just finished her co-op term as Social Media/Web Communicator for the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW).

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