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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Wednesday 14 May 2014

On Youth Employment, Chow is Half-Way There

Let's skip past the candidate fun and games, because there's a real challenge here with tangible solutions that are pretty awesome.

Here are the facts:

- Particularly in the work culture we have now, employers want low-risk, low-commitment and cheap hires.  Only a few firms are getting ahead of the curve and recognizing that "spend money to earn money" applies equally to investing in your workforce

- What are the training opportunities that exist for youth out there?  We can talk about a specific trade - construction, for instance, or programming - but we're moving back towards a top-heavy, laissez-faire market where would-be employees are expected to do all the sales and convince the employers of their value (on the golf course, as an example).

- Customers, for their part, are looking for more than products - they want experiences.  They want to engage with firms, products and services where they get to be a bit of the process and can tell that the teams love what they do and feel empowered to take ownership of their work.

- Canada's corporate culture is largely stuck in a 20th Century, Industrial Economy mentality; they don't get the dynamism, interactivity and post-transactional relationships that are defining modern HR practices and economic opportunity.

- One-off employment opportunities for youth, especially marginalized youth, isn't translating into full-time offers; too often it's companies taking the matched, cheaper labour costs for a short-term project then moving on, which doesn't help youth at all

That's all the bad news.  The good news is that the tide is turning.  

- There's a move towards Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) not just as a branding exercise, but a means to add value to a companies work, empower employees and develop in-kind partnerships

- User Generated Content (UGC) is a growing thing - corporations, political parties and a growing host of organizations are making users part of their solution and part of their team, with engaged staff serving as the interface - this is what the whole Open Data and Open Government building a city that thinks like the web thing is about

- Many organizations, such as Make Web Not War, are looking at doing CSR through in-kind donations of time and expertise rather than just donating cash.  It's a bit of the teach an individual to fish mentality 

- instead of a lump-sum grant, dedicate staff hours to do organizational, communications and other activity while teaching the tricks of those trades to members of the team being supported

- youth with great ambition but less access to specialized skills training or traditional job opportunities are trying to strike out on their own through entrepreneurial efforts - what they lack, more than anything else, is the refined skills to excel at and sell what they do

So, with all that in mind, here's something for Team Chow to consider:

Don't just hire youth for government infrastructure projects; match those contracts with entrepreneurship/life skills training opportunities.  Find partners (maybe Swerhun, Exhibit Change, Canadian Training Institute - build up some vendors of record) you can put on retainers that get funded by successful applicants to go in and provide life-skills, communications, etc. training for hired youth.

A company landing a city contract will have access to a cheaper pool of youth labour, but those youth are going to walk away with more than just a line on their CV; they'll be spending some of their time in class, at events or in the field learning and applying the value-add skills that will really help them succeed in the future.

Start wiring these engaged, empowered youth into social movements like SoJo, Girl Geeks TO and Open Data TO, you're actively shaping the next generation of community leaders, and they will remember you for it.

There's a market for this; there's precedent for this; there's a need for this.

Chow's half-way there, it seems; just imagine how much further she could go if she committed to bringing Toronto's youth along with her.

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