A new report by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business says high schools don’t adequately prepare students for the jobs of today and that’s hurting small businesses in Canada, which are facing record-high job vacancy rates and ongoing labour shortages in certain sectors.
At the same time, youth unemployment rates in Canada are much higher than the overall average.
“There is a clear gap between what employers need and the skills our educational institutions emphasize,” said Corinne Pohlmann, CFIB’s senior vice-president of national affairs. “Schools at the secondary and post-secondary level tend to be more focused on preparing youth for higher education instead of work. Too many young people enter the workforce without the critical soft skills employers look for, putting them at a serious disadvantage when they look for that foundational first job.”
A survey by CFIB said that more than half of employers say that high schools do not prepare youth for current jobs.
The CFIB’s report, Hire Education: Connecting youth and small businesses for the jobs of today, said colleges did better at preparing grads for employment, with 51 per cent of employers saying they were very or somewhat satisfied, compared to only 37 per cent who were satisfied with how universities prepare their students for a career.
The CFIB is recommending that high schools and post-secondary institutions collaborate with the business community to help close the gap by revamping their curriculums to emphasize soft skills like workplace communication, problem solving and networking, and promoting careers in the trades.
“Many of our country’s entrepreneurs and job creators are small business owners in the skilled trades,” said Emilie Hayes, CFIB’s policy analyst and co-author of the report. “We shouldn’t stigmatize those jobs and turn young people off from them. Our workforce today and in the future will need tradespeople as much as it needs tech workers and white collar professionals.”
The CFIB said governments and schools must create more work-integrated learning opportunities, such as co-ops and internships, especially in sectors experiencing labour shortages. It added that governments can further improve the accessibility of those opportunities and encourage more small businesses to take on inexperienced workers by offsetting the cost of hiring through measures like co-op tax credits or a holiday on Employment Insurance premiums for young employees.
“Helping young people transition into the workforce and connect with meaningful work is an investment in the future of our economy. Governments, schools, employers and young people all have a part to play,” said Pohlmann.
Mario Toneguzzi is a veteran Calgary-based journalist who worked for 35 years for the Calgary Herald, including 12 years as a senior business writer.