Earlier this week, I had the pleasure and privilege of chatting with a group of Waterloo Unlimited students. Waterloo Unlimited is based out of the University of Waterloo, within the Centre for Knowledge Integration, and offers enrichment opportunities to high school students of all grade levels wishing to get a taste of academia. When I was in high school, I attended this program as well as the similar (but longer) engineering- and business-oriented program known as Shad Valley.
Before talking to these young, idealistic high school students (aged between 16 and 18), I worried that they would be hugely unprepared for the real world – much as I was when I was that age. As The Globe’s ongoing Wealth Paradox series highlights, “the youth unemployment rate in Canada is double the overall unemployment rate, and many graduates are encountering a gap between their work and compensation expectations and the reality of today’s job market” (Lynch, November 2013). This same article outlines the benefits of the German dual vocational training system, which combines classroom education with experiential, hands-on learning (Lynch, November 2013).
This vocational system is thought to explain “why Germany has the strongest growth, best innovation performance and one of the lowest youth unemployment rates in Europe” (Lynch, November 2013). The benefits of this system are many, and it is wise for Canadians to evaluate the nuances of this system in the face of Canada’s growing employment mismatch (Sherlock, November 2013). Essentially, this employment mismatch means that there will be “almost 550,000 unskilled workers who will not be qualified for the skilled job vacancies and that could rise to more than one million by 2021” in British Columbia alone (Sherlock, November 2013).
Other reports are emerging which suggest that “Canada is not experiencing labour shortages, nor are widespread ones likely to materialize, although shifts in the economy are creating a new normal for the jobs market” (Grant, November 2013). I agree that the rapid shifts in the economy are creating a situation in which local disparities in unemployment are likely to become more pronounced – as illustrated by the flux of former Blackberry employees seeking work in Waterloo Region (see Friend, November 2013).
While speaking to the Waterloo Unlimited students, however, I felt hopeful and optimistic about their future prospects. This despite the changeable status of the current economy and the rapid technological and cultural changes which destabilize livelihoods the world over. I got a strong sense of creativity, energy, and adaptive capacity from these youths, and am further pleased to report that they seemed aware of – and prepared to deal with – the uncertain economic situation.
From reading the Academic Group’s daily Top Ten newsletter, I know that universities and colleges are also responding to the employment mismatch in Canada with astounding rapidity and innovation. This gives me great hope that future generations will be better equipped to meet the needs of the job market, thus finding a source of purpose and financial stability in their lives.