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The following was written in response to a recent opinion piece published by Canada's National Observer. You can read the original piece here.
I read Brennan Strandberg-Salmon’s opinion piece in Canada’s National Observer with interest. His point is timely and well taken; an equitable economic recovery absolutely depends on supporting youth, and those who already faced barriers to employment before the pandemic, find meaningful work in the green economy.
However, the article, which calls repeatedly for creating a green jobs strategy for youth, gives the impression that scarce action is being taken in this direction. In fact, Canada has developed the Youth Employment and Skills Strategy (YESS), which crosses 11 federal departments and agencies and provides funding for youth, and specifically those facing barriers to employment, to enter the labour market.
Natural Resources Canada, for its part, has allocated $15.8 million of its portion to a green jobs youth fund that does exactly what the article speaks to. Strandberg-Salmon alludes to this in his mention of “500 green youth jobs.” I would add that federal investments in the Student Work Placement program have included a significant investment in environmental and electricity post-secondary internship and co-operative education supports.
Energy and natural resources employers, educational institutions and other stakeholders across the country have actively taken up these programs to benefit from the skills and perspectives of young workers, and to develop Canada’s next-generation green skills pipeline. Furthermore, leaders in Canada’s electricity sector have called on policy-makers to get economic stimulus right with a focus on electrification — a strategy that would, of course, include further investment in green jobs for youth.
Perhaps the call to action for the article should instead be on the importance of advocating for better education of young Canadians in their early years about the incredible variety of green jobs available to them in order to increase interest and enable them to build their skills with intention. Strandberg-Salmon mentions his own experience of wondering, “What next?”
This anecdote resonates with Electricity Human Resources Canada’s labour market research. Only five per cent of the electricity and renewable energy sector workforce is under the age of 25, yet 14 per cent of the Canadian labour market is under 25 more broadly — so there is a gap there and work to be done.
Our recent Generation Impact report found that the lack of interest on the part of young people in pursuing careers in Canada’s electricity sector — one of the greenest in the world — stems from a lack of awareness of what the sector offers, rather than the actual availability of opportunity.
As a youth leader in climate change, Strandberg-Salmon has a strong voice. I encourage him to consider building on the momentum of the significant ongoing work that many stakeholders are engaged in regarding empowering and educating young Canadians about green opportunities in the Canadian economy.
Mark Chapeskie is the director of programs for Electricity Human Resources Canada.