If there is one thing many of us can agree on, it’s that COVID-19 brought a tidal wave of disruptions for young people across Canada. However, there are signs that the tides are turning, and this presents a critical moment. How might we re-envision youth engagement as an opportunity to work alongside youth to create a hopeful, post-pandemic future?
Here’s some bittersweet news:
Youth employment is on the rise. After a record-breaking youth unemployment rate in May, industries where many youth traditionally find work (e.g. hospitality, food services, and retail), are hiring again. Canada Summer Jobs is also creating tens of thousands of jobs, with extended work periods past the summer and into early 2021. Yet, the job market is worse than a year ago, and there are serious concerns that youth will earn much less income in both the short and long term.
Provinces are exploring a range of back-to-school precautions. What remains to be seen is how youth will continue to cope. A crowdsourced Statistics Canada survey shows that the majority of youth respondents (ages 15 to 24) reported worse mental health since physical distancing measures came into effect.
Though the data may appear dire at times, to me it is a picture of resourcefulness and resiliency – communities rising in the face of uncertainty and rapidly responding with policies, programs, services, and strategies.
But where are the youth?
On July 21, Future of Good hosted #BuildBackBetter Digital Conversations: Rebuilding Communities For (And With) Youth. Speakers shared excellent insights on what a youth-centred response could look like, promising trends, and what to let go of to create a more equitable recovery.
My key takeaways:
Look past school degrees and consider lived experience – Many youth cannot access post-secondary education, but they do provide caregiving, volunteer in their community, participate in programs, and take part in school initiatives. During the hiring process, encourage youth to share stories and skills they developed through non-traditional experience. “Experience-based [hiring] breaks down barriers on access to employment and makes it a more welcoming and accessible process.” – Linxi Mytkolli, Youthful Cities
Make work a place where youth can be themselves – Black, Indigenous, LGBTQ+ and racialized youth often face employer discrimination and pressure to hide their identities at work. Encourage an environment where youth can express who they are and assert themselves as self-determining individuals. “How to live the good life – it’s where people are able to be their full selves, able to flourish and prosper.” – Justin Wiebe, MasterCard Foundation
Empower youth to empower themselves – Youth are inherently capable. Organizations can encourage youth leadership and act as a thought partner, instead of simply providing oversight. “You [youth] know what you need. And if the powers that be are not listening, lead in your community. That will force the powers that be to pay attention.” – Candies Kotchapaw, DYLOTT
Turn youth advisories into youth action teams – Consulting youth purely for input and feedback is tokenizing and frankly, a waste of their knowledge and experience. Engage youth as part of decision-making and co-lead when implementing their great ideas. “Young people see opportunities during the pandemic and they have been creating.” – Nadine Duguay-Lemay, Dialogue NB
As youth experience extraordinary circumstances, we too must foster extraordinary partnerships with youth. At Communities Building Youth Futures, we are developing a Youth Engagement Strategy and are committed to shared leadership, decision-making, and thoughtful consultation with youth. We invite you to consider how your organization can enable more young people to be engaged in their communities and successfully navigate transitions from youth to adulthood.