Queen's Park must focus on youth unemployment: Ontario's colleges

TORONTO, Feb. 17, 2014 /CNW/ - Addressing youth unemployment and underemployment must be the focus of the Ontario government's spring session that starts tomorrow, say Ontario's colleges.

"Far too many young people are out of work or underemployed," said Linda Franklin, the president and CEO of Colleges Ontario, the advocacy organization for the province's 24 public colleges. "We must support our young people. Youth joblessness must be Ontario's top priority."

Young people have been hit particularly hard in the current economy. More than 16 per cent of young people in Ontario are unemployed, while many others are working in jobs that don't utilize their talents and competencies.

The provincial government did take steps last year to address the issue, including the launch of the Ontario Youth Employment Fund to support work placements for young people. Franklin said the priority now is to implement broader policy measures that better align higher education and training with the needs of the job market.

The unemployment and underemployment challenges go well beyond a shortage of jobs. Much of the problem is due to the skills mismatch and the fact that too many people don't have the qualifications and advanced skills to fill the positions that are available.

The skills mismatch continues to be a huge problem for Ontario's overall economy. The Conference Board of Canada estimates that skills gaps cost Ontario as much as $24.3 billion a year in lost economic opportunity. The province also loses $3.7 billion annually in potential tax revenues.

Ontario must help more people get access to post-secondary education, and ensure that greater numbers of post-secondary students get career-specific learning and training as part of their higher education. More young people, from high school graduates to university students, need to study at college as part of their learning.

The provincial measures to transform post-secondary education should include expanding the range of degree programs in career-specific areas. This would include elevating Ontario's post-secondary system to international standards by allowing colleges to offer three-year degree programs.

The province must also reform apprenticeship training, and continue to strengthen its system for transferring completed post-secondary credits so that greater numbers of students can acquire a combination of both college and university education.

"We must ensure that more people are able to find meaningful careers after they graduate," Franklin said. "This must be the focus of the spring session and the upcoming provincial budget."

Ontario's colleges serve 220,000 full-time students and 300,000 part-time students and clients. The colleges offer a range of programs including advertising, business, paramedicine, hospitality, game development, biotechnology and much more.

SOURCE Colleges Ontario

For further information: Rob Savage, Director of Communications, Colleges Ontario, 647-258-7687, savage@collegesontario.org