(Originally published in the July 2014 issue of the Nova Scotia Business Journal)
Young Nova Scotians have always had to work hard to establish themselves in the labour market, as do new workers everywhere. But young workers have struggled harder still through the recent recession and its slow recovery.
Since 2009, workers age 15 to 29 have faced an unemployment rate of 15 per cent in Nova Scotia, up from 11 per cent in 2008, to say nothing of underemployment. Across the province, two in five unemployed workers are under 30 years old. In Halifax, where the region’s youth congregate, that number is one in two.
The problem, it would seem, is a lack of entry-level positions. Young workers are all too familiar with the catch-22 experience: you need an entry-level job to get experience but even most “entry-level” jobs require two or more years of experience. How does one bridge that gap?
One popular story is that the region’s youth head west to get their first few years of experience and then return to the East Coast. Data shows that story is half true. Last year, 4,000 net Nova Scotians under the age of 30 did indeed leave for other provinces, according to Statistics Canada. But few who leave as recent graduates return. This is bad news for our businesses. Over a quarter of top Atlantic Canadian firms express great difficulty in attracting workers with more than five years of experience. If youth outmigration persists, it will get even harder. The Ivany report noted that without bold action the province is currently projected to have 100,000 fewer working age people by 2036 than it had in 2010.
On the bright side, businesses can do something about this: hire and train recent graduates. Young workers and recent graduates, although relatively inexperienced, are well educated, enthusiastic, and can bring fresh perspectives and ideas to your operation. With formal and on-the-job training, today’s young hire will be tomorrow’s experienced worker.
Public support is in place to help businesses do this. In its latest budget, the Province of Nova Scotia announced programs such as Graduate to Opportunity which will subsidize the employment of recent graduates during their first year of employment, the expanded START program to encourage the hiring of apprentices, and the expanded Strategic Co-operative Education Incentive. The Workplace Innovation and Productivity Skills Incentive helps firms provide employees with formal training relevant to their business.
Turning the tide of youth outmigration is key to attracting and retaining the talent necessary for our businesses and our province to grow. Surveys show most university students want to remain in the province after graduation if given the opportunity. Business can provide that opportunity and train their leaders of tomorrow at the same time. It’s a win-win.
Ryan MacLeod is an economist and project development specialist at the Greater Halifax Partnership. He is the lead author of The Halifax Index 2014 which provides a definitive look at Halifax’s economic and community progress. You can reach Ryan at firstname.lastname@example.org