Oshawa a hotspot for youth unemployment

While Oshawa’s unemployment rate is on par with other Ontario cities, one particular demographic is feeling the brunt of joblessness—students.

High school students are hit hardest with unemployment in Oshawa, according to Mayor John Henry. He said this sets up a poor course for students continuing their education through post-secondary, and then graduating with a large amount of debt while trying to find a career in their field.

Unemployment figures as a whole speak little to students until they are categorized by age. At the beginning of this school year, Oshawa’s unemployment rate stood at 7.8 per cent, a comparison on par with provincial and national figures, according to Statistics Canada.

However, when that figure is broken down, 19.6 per cent of Oshawa’s youth were out of work, but only 5.5 per cent over the age of 25 were jobless.

Henry said the way the federal government calculates youth unemployment “is not quite accurate.” Youth unemployment is defined by the ages of 15-24, but Henry said it should be divided even further into two sub-categories: 15-18 and 19-24.

Henry said Oshawa does well in the latter range, but is struggling with the former.

He is passionate about creating starter jobs for high school students so they can begin to save money early for post-secondary education, and develop soft skills that are essential for future employment opportunities.

“It’s pretty hard when you graduate from school if you owe a lot of money, you’re trying to find a place to live, feed yourself, buy your clothes and pay for transportation and you’re carrying a large debt,” Henry said. “That doesn’t work.”

With the development of the Oshawa Centre, re-invention of the Midtown Mall in the downtown core of the city, and future development of land just north of UOIT DC’s campus to host another large commercial site, Henry hopes to relieve some job stress for high school and post-secondary students.

Mary Noble, employment advisor for Durham College Career Services said, “That’s exactly what we think of when we think of youth unemployment. We don’t think of the graduates who are highly skilled. We think of people who need that part-time job.”

Career Services at Durham College is the division responsible for job fairs on campus, other career-related events, class seminars, and one-on-one career education and support.

For students just beginning their post-secondary education, Noble suggests they avail themselves of as many resources as possible.

“Don’t wait until last semester,” Noble said. “The better able we are to get to know you, the better able we are to help.”

Beyond Career Service’s standard support, they are also seeking innovative ways to engage students and assist in job-hunting.

Recently, DC was attracted to a new job networking site, Magnet. It affords users anonymity and a more private connection with potential employers, distinguishing itself from networking sites such as LinkedIn that encourage users to market themselves to the public.

The idea behind the initiative, created by Ryerson University, affiliated with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and funded by the Ontario government, is to let the jobs chase you instead of the other way around. It is also intended to eliminate any bias employers have by not asking for names, places of education or work, and focussing solely on skills and qualifications.

“(Magnet is) like a matchmaking service between individuals and employers,” said Christina Enns, employment advisor and Magnet project campus coordinator for Durham College. “It really doesn’t ask a lot of a student, it’s very accessible and very easy, and that’s why we want to get as many students signing up as possible.”

While she is busy promoting the new project to students on campus, Career Services is also promoting the campus-wide job fair in February to employers.

“Being the end of term, students are engaged in academics, so we don’t run a ton of stuff now because their focus is otherwise and we get that,” Noble said.

Last year, nearly double the number of students attended the fair than in previous years, 1,900 students in total, despite whiteout weather.

“We’ve got 11,000 students just at Durham College, so we hope to get 11,000 students in the door. We’re prepared,” Noble said.

But despite efforts being made in the city and on campus to alleviate high youth unemployment, many of the actions may not be robust enough.

Provincial youth unemployment rates are significantly higher than the national average. Home of the capital and the largest city in the country, Ontario is still the worst province for youth unemployment outside Atlantic Canada, which makes Oshawa a hotspot for high youth unemployment, according to Sean Geobey, author of 2013 study The Young and the Jobless for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

According to Statistics Canada, the national youth unemployment average hovers around 13.5 to 14.5 per cent, while in Ontario the average fluctuates around 16 and 17 per cent.

Geobey said the global recession six years ago has much to do with high youth unemployment rates now. The recession left the gap far and wide between youth and older workers in Ontario—worse than the youth-adult unemployment gap after earlier recessions in the 80s and 90s—and what youth are experiencing now is the post-recession hangover.

Hangovers pass, but youth unemployment could become chronic, according to Geobey, who said in his report that labour market trends were “troubling” for youth pre-recession, which may have only “locked things in.”

But the onus is not only on government to improve youth unemployment conditions. Individuals seeking employment need self-awareness, Noble said. Students seeking jobs need to have confidence in their unique skill-sets, and develop a strong understanding of what they can contribute to employers.

Noble said self-awareness, market-awareness, and networking are three of the most important factors to finding a successful career path.

A good word goes a long way in today’s economic environment, according to Lou Adler, author of The Essential Guide for Hiring and Getting Hired, in an article called Hire Economics. Based on research, Adler said 45 per cent of hiring is managed through networking, and only 30 per cent of hiring is done through online job searching.

Adler suggests career-hunters spend at least 60 per cent of their time on networking, and the other 40 per cent on building their resume and scrolling online job posts.

Cassandra Britton, a 2013 graduate of Durham College’s Sports Management program, understands the importance of networking. She attributes her success at finding a coveted entry-level position at Maple Leaf’s Sports Entertainment to a co-worker she kept in contact with following her internship at TrojanOne.

“I had him on LinkedIn and a few other team members, and I saw that he switched over to the partnership team with MLSE. So I knew in the back of my head that he was there. When I saw the posting (for my current position) I just sent him an e-mail to ask if that was in his department,” Britton said. “I work with him now, he sits right beside me.”

Youth unemployment is resilient and current actions to remedy the issue may not be intense enough, but those impacted the most also have influence over the issue. Students have equal responsibility to the government and employers to ensure youth unemployment does not become a chronic issue.


  1. Hi Emily. Good article. I should add a little emphasis on employability skills and their importance to employers. Students need to make an extra effort to practice those skills that will make them a good employee no matter where they work. Skills such as communication, problem-solving, teamwork and information handling are crucial to employers, and these skills can and should be improved on an ongoing basis. Many thanks! ~ Mary Noble