A New Generation Faces New Challenges

Young Workers of Today

Few moments in a young person’s life bring more hope, promise, and pride than graduating from college or university. This milestone brings excitement and a sense of preparedness to take that next step into a career, looking ahead to a financially secure future…

Graduation means that dreams can finally become a reality – hard work will finally pay off. Yet the current job market has put up countless barriers for Generation Y-ers to achieve these dreams.

The fastest growing segment in the workforce, Generation Y is made up of those born from the late 1970s into the early 1990s. These young, relatively new workers face challenges unlike previous generations. The fulltime, lifelong employment enjoyed by Baby Boomers is, for the most part, a thing of the past.

Generation Y is represented more than any other age demographic in part-time, contract positions and unpaid internships. These jobs often leave workers ineligible for benefits packages, and workers face significant job insecurity.

According to the Canadian Labour Congress, over 1.3 million Canadians are unemployed, an overall rate of 7.2 percent. The unemployment rate for Canadians 18 to 24 years of age was 14.5 percent. Of those young Canadians who were employed, 46.8 percent of them were only employed part-time.

Young workers are among the most adaptable, innovative, and tech savvy workers in the job market and employers stand to make large gains by leveraging their strengths. Many young workers have spent extensive time learning and training, often with multiple college diplomas and university degrees on their résumés. What they may lack in years of work experience, they make up for in other ways.

Generation Y has staying power – they can commit to an employer for years. The reality of “flexible” work means, however, that when a young worker is getting by from contract to contract, employees may leave current positions to secure better opportunities for themselves. As Generation Y ages, with mortgages and families to support, they will increasingly seek out well compensated employment that includes better benefits packages and better working hours.

Indeed, young workers represent some of the most dissatisfied workers, constantly looking for better employment. A study by Aflac, a supplementary insurance provider, showed that 68 percent of young workers indicated they are “likely to” and 47 percent are “extremely likely to” search for an alternative job over the next 12 months. This dissatisfaction could stem from the fact that young workers are the demographic least represented by unions: only 1 in 7 has access to unionized job security and insurance benefits. Young workers are also at the highest risk for on the job injuries, primarily due to unawareness and lack of enforcement of employment standards and regulations.

Lack of access to supplementary health insurance benefits certainly takes its toll on today’s young workers as well. In Canada, only six percent of dental care is publicly funded and 53 percent of Canadians have private dental insurance. Generation Y makes up the highest percentage of Canadians without access to dental care. In 2010, one third of Canadians ages 20 to 39 had not been to the dentist for over a year. Many declined further treatment, and many are only likely to return in the case of an emergency. Each year, approximately 40 percent of Canadians take a dental related absence from work, equating to 2.26 million missed school days and 4.15 million missed days of work. Lack of access to dental care affects individuals, but also the economy as a whole.

Although financial hardship is common amongst the unemployed and underemployed of all ages, it can be worse for out of work young people. This segment of the population is least likely to benefit from employment insurance. Established workers in high unemployment areas are required to work 420 hours to qualify for EI benefits. New workers are required to work 910 hours over a 52-week period, which is difficult for those who can only secure part-time hours or contract work.

These regulations are based in good intentions; Employment Insurance is meant to be a safety net for workers to fall back on when their employment is terminated, meant to help workers to get back on their feet. However, all workers pay into EI and young labourers who are relatively new to the workforce are disadvantaged in accessing EI benefits. Only 48 percent of young workers were able to access EI benefits, whereas 90 percent of Canadians ages 25 to 69 qualified. The Canadian government has been criticized for implementing stricter Employment Insurance regulations. They have also been criticized for the lack of a targeted national job strategy, while at the same time making cuts to youth employment programs.

As the Baby Boomers eventually leave the workforce, more can be done to invest in the physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing of future workers. The age of retirement continues to increase at the same time as living costs. There is a growing pool of highly educated workers, willing and able to work but largely unable to break into the job market.

The economy stands to benefit greatly from the next generation of workers, and investing in the health and wellbeing of young workers is an investment in the future of the economy. As it stands, young people are disproportionately limited in access to fulltime employment and its many benefits. This generation could be contributing significantly to the overall economic health of the nation – they simply require the opportunities to do so.

December 14, 2017, 10:12 AM EST