To change the course of student careers and society for the better, the Canadian government must launch a green jobs initiative for youth and give youth hope for themselves and their communities.
COVID-19 brought the lives of Canadian youth like me to a grinding halt. Schools closed, graduations were cancelled, social events were curtailed and careers were derailed. Unemployment rates for those aged 15 to 24 soared to a historical high of 29.4 per cent in May, up from 10.3 per cent in February. Those who kept their jobs primarily carried out high-contact and low-paid essential work.
In September, Statistics Canada reported one in four Canadians under 30 were “NEET” ― not in education, employment or training. Jobs are returning more slowly for youth, and studies of the 2008 recession show that youth who are unemployed for long periods struggle to maintain employment later in life.
In short, young people living through this pandemic are at risk of becoming a lost generation.
Canada must lead in helping youth recover from unemployment by establishing a youth green jobs initiative within its COVID-19 recovery strategy.
As a 19-year-old post-secondary student deeply concerned about climate change, this initiative would be life-changing. The certainty of stable, meaningful green jobs would alleviate my fears for the future — for myself and our planet.
After graduating high school in Burnaby, B.C., like many new ex-high schoolers, I struggled with the simple question of “what next?”
For me, one thing was clear: I wanted to have a positive impact on the environment and society.
But in high school, the career fairs, work experience and career-planning programs focused on traditional options — students could aspire to be teachers, doctors, lawyers, tradespeople and so on. I couldn’t find information on green jobs — a field that includes interdisciplinary careers within business, non-profit organizations and government, jobs that genuinely contribute to a more sustainable world.
"#GreenJobs are society’s pathway to a green future — without them, we will lose the fight against #ClimateChange," writes Brennan Strandberg-Salmon.
My main takeaway? Pursuing “green jobs” wasn’t a common, or even viable, career path.
This can’t be the message we give Canada’s youth.
Federal leadership that prioritizes our future is critical, both in terms of our careers and the viability of our communities facing environmental crises. Green jobs are society’s pathway to a green future — without them, we will lose the fight against climate change.
Canada has made great strides to spur the growth of green jobs among youth, but it’s not enough. In June, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced 500 green youth jobs in Canada’s clean technology and natural resource sectors. More recently, the federal government funded Pivot 2020, a program that hired 1,200 young people in 27 cities to develop a youth-informed public database to help planners, organizations and governments incorporate youth priorities into the post-pandemic urban recovery.
According to the program’s manager, the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue at Simon Fraser University, nearly 2,400 young people applied, eager to make a difference in their communities. Clearly, more programs like this are necessary to meet the demand and need for sustainable and resilient communities.
A green jobs for youth initiative funded by the federal government and administered by local municipalities and community groups should provide green jobs in energy efficiency, low-carbon transportation, clean energy, ecotourism, ecodesign, sustainable agriculture and other sectors.
Canada can help youth recover from pandemic-driven unemployment rates and simultaneously increase local resilience and fight climate change. By creating green job pathways for people in their early careers, Canada can inspire a generation of change makers capable of combating society’s biggest social and environmental problems for decades, laying the foundations of a safer, fairer and more sustainable world. A passionate youth workforce would also reduce the incidence of mental health challenges and homelessness due to a lack of employment, and reduce the stress, grief and anxiety caused by social isolation and negative news.
I’m not the only one eager for change. In July, youth leaders and allies from across the country wrote an open letter urging the federal government to “future-proof” the Canadian economy by investing in Canada’s youth during COVID-19. The letter, which was co-created by Global Shapers community hubs across Canada, contains three central recommendations, including investing in youth job creation programs.
The letter received positive responses from several ministers and led to a meeting with the parliamentary secretary to Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains in September. Global Shapers is awaiting a followup from the meeting.
How can we recover from the pandemic and simultaneously build more sustainable, equitable and resilient places to live?
Let’s start by investing in our future and creating green jobs for youth.