Young workers could alleviate Canada’s labour shortage, but they need help

Schools and government must do more to connect employers and youth

Toronto, October 11, 2018 – While small businesses are facing record-high job vacancy rates and ongoing labour shortages in certain sectors, youth unemployment remains almost twice as high as the Canadian average. Many young people start their careers in small businesses, but more than half of employers say that high schools do not adequately prepare them for the jobs of today, according to a new report by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB).

“There is a clear gap between what employers need and the skills our educational institutions emphasize,” said Corinne Pohlmann, CFIB’s senior vice-president of national affairs. “Schools at the secondary and post-secondary level tend to be more focused on preparing youth for higher education instead of work. Too many young people enter the workforce without the critical soft skills employers look for, putting them at a serious disadvantage when they look for that foundational first job.”

Colleges did better at preparing grads for employment, with 51 per cent of employers saying they were very or somewhat satisfied, compared to only 37 per cent who were satisfied with how universities prepare their students for a career.

CFIB’s report, Hire Education: Connecting youth and small businesses for the jobs of today, recommends that high schools and post-secondary institutions collaborate with the business community to help close the gap by revamping their curriculums to emphasize soft skills like workplace communication, problem solving and networking, and promoting careers in the trades.

Connecting youth with the jobs of today
The perception that careers in the skilled trades are less valuable than white collar work also contributes to the mismatch between the skills young people study and labour market needs.

“Many of our country’s entrepreneurs and job creators are small business owners in the skilled trades,” added Emilie Hayes, CFIB’s policy analyst and co-author of the report. “We shouldn’t stigmatize those jobs and turn young people off from them. Our workforce today and in the future will need tradespeople as much as it needs tech workers and white collar professionals.”

Small business owners are eager to hire young workers and willing to invest in training them, provided they have the right attitude and soft skills. However, hiring and training inexperienced workers is more costly for employers than hiring experienced workers and that cost is going up due to payroll tax increases and minimum wage hikes.  

Governments and schools must create more work-integrated learning (WIL) opportunities, such as co-ops and internships, especially in sectors experiencing labour shortages. Governments can further improve the accessibility of WIL opportunities and encourage more small businesses to take on inexperienced workers by offsetting the cost of hiring through measures like co-op tax credits or a holiday on Employment Insurance premiums for young employees. 

“Helping young people transition into the workforce and connect with meaningful work is an investment in the future of our economy. Governments, schools, employers and young people all have a part to play,” concluded Pohlmann.

For media enquiries or interviews, please contact:
Milena Stanoeva, CFIB

About CFIB
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) is Canada’s largest association of small and medium-sized businesses with 110,000 members across every sector and region. Learn more at