(Originally published in the Chronicle Herald)
In the past few weeks, several major reports have been released in this province and beyond detailing the struggles facing young workers. StudentsNS, the Conference Board of Canada, and the Community Foundation of Nova Scotia have all added their voice and considerable research efforts outlining the employment and income challenges faced by youth in Canada and Nova Scotia, adding much food for thought to the discussion around Nova Scotia’s looming population crisis.
The challenges facing youth in Nova Scotia and the economic challenges resulting from their outmigration are well documented in these reports as well as One Nova Scotia. However, why should YOU – as a community member, business owner, employee, or a soon-to-be or current retiree – care about this issue?
Youth Retention Affects Everyone
This isn’t just a problem for youth. Retaining our up-and-coming talent is a problem that will directly affect all Nova Scotians, and it requires cooperative action from all sectors to solve.
A lack of talent means everything slows down. To an entrepreneur, a declining population means a struggle to grow your business as experienced labour and customers fall short in supply. To an employee, it means more work and more hours because your office is short staffed. To a consumer, it means longer wait times – from the hospital to the checkout line at Sobeys because the staff needed won’t be there. The quality of life we pride ourselves on will no doubt be reduced.
For current and future retirees, youth labour market struggles and outmigration means difficulty financing your own expenses and the government services you rely on. In 2012, a BMO study found that a third of Baby Boomers planned to sell their homes to fund their retirement. However, amid stalled growth in full-time employment and declining numbers of young workers looking to buy their first home, Halifax's housing market has softened over the past three years. If you decide to downsize, who will buy your home at its historic high price? And how will we finance the growing cost of providing health services to an aging population? A forecast decline of 100,000 working age people by 2036 will place considerable constraints on growth in government revenues.
We need to think of youth retention in terms of our investment in human capital and future productive capacity. Provincial spending on early-life healthcare services and primary through to post-secondary education produce a fresh crop of healthy, educated, community-minded young workers each year. However, each year as the next crop graduates from university – just as they are about to reach the productive, working stage of their life where the community is about to see a return on that human capital investment – thousands of them are forced to take their productive capacity elsewhere due to a lack of local support and opportunity, greatly benefiting other communities and detreimental (and at great expense) to our own. We need to stop being content with raising the next generation of someone else’s workforce.
So what can you do, as an individual, to help our young workers find opportunity here, in our community?
- Businesses and employers: offer co-op and entry-level positions and invest in skills training for your young employees (note that entry-level means no experience required, not 2-3 years). Many Atlantic Canadian businesses complain of difficulties hiring workers with 5 or more years of experience. With opportunity and training, today’s entry-level employee will be tomorrow’s experienced worker.
- Employees: encourage your employer to consider hiring more young talent and act as mentor to younger coworkers. They will learn from the benefit of your experience and lighten your work load. You might even consider joining our Connector program, helping new entrants to the Halifax labour market tap into your experience and network.
- Educators and educational institutions: take an interest in the employability of your students. Education is, of course, important for its own sake but I suspect if asked, the majority of your students will indicate that they view their education as a stepping stone to a good career. Teach your students how to job hunt, how to interview and market themselves and the skills they have acquired in your program. Help them leverage your connections in the education, public and private sectors to build their own networks.
We all need to play a role in addressing our province’s most pressing issue and we can’t wait for government to provide the solution. Let’s rally to keep our young people here to build a prosperous and secure future for all Nova Scotians.
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.
Sasha Sears is the Project Coordinator for the Young and Emerging Talent stream of the Partnership's Connector Program.