On the whole, the Canadian job market is faring well unless you're a student seeking well-paying summer work or a graduate keen to land a career position and get a move-on paying down your student loan debt.
Data from Statistics Canada released last March shows Canada's total jobless rate currently sits at an acceptable 7.4 per cent. But for those in the 15- to 24-age bracket, the unemployment figure is much higher: 14.7 per cent.
That's not a big shock. Typically, youth unemployment is double that of the national average. But Stacy Parker, executive vice-president of marketing, Randstad Canada in Toronto, says the obstacles youth must overcome to finding gainful employment — be it temporary summer work or a permanent position — has never been more daunting.
"There's a lot fewer jobs available for them (post-2008 economic crash)," she says. "Whenever you see the recovery post-recession, the youth are always the hardest hit and they take the longest time to get out from under the recession impact on employment."
However, Parker adds last month some 40,000 full-time jobs geared for youth became available.
"That was the first positive sign we've seen with Quebec making the biggest gains (in March)," she says. "The lowest gains were in the Atlantic provinces."
Nancy Schaefer, the president of Youth Employment Services (YES) in Toronto, says the challenges facing youth this summer are much the same as those last summer: the competition is high and the jobs scarce. Moreover, summer jobs are traditionally low paying gigs.
"There's just not enough (jobs) to go around. So if students aren't out there early and aggressively they won't get one," she says. "Our economy isn't doing so bad, it's chugging along, but it's certainly not generating a lot of new, well-paying, full-time jobs.
"There's a lot of part-time activity happening but if you've graduated (from college or university) and you want to start paying off your (student loan) debt and get on with your life, it's very difficult to do that on a part-time job."
Schaefer says students are definitely feeling the impact of an economy that doesn't seem to have the jobs they want and need. That negative impact runs both ways.
"What are young people doing if they're not working and not in school? The trend for quite a while has been that they're staying at home longer," she says. "Parents would've expected their 20-something children to be independent but they're just not able to do that.
"Hopefully, both parents are working and they're able to stay at home but for a lot of young people that's just not possible."
Schaefer adds in big cities like Toronto, there are more youth seeking out homeless shelters.
"It's just postponing that whole maturing of a country that we'd like to see: you get an education, you get a full-time permanent job and you escalate your earnings," she adds. "That ideal is becoming a distant dream at best right now. Our youth are facing quite a critical situation."
Job experience is a differentiator
Job experience tends to be the biggest hurdle for the 15- to 24-year-old age group when it comes to impressing an employer.
"There are a lot of youth that are still demanding that they get paid for entry-level work assignments. I think that that is a bad choice for youth. The first couple of jobs they do by way of an unpaid intern gives them a leg up," Parker says. "Many of those unpaid intern programs end up as full-time, paying careers for them and every major employer across the country has dedicated unpaid intern programs.
"Work experience is absolutely critical. No matter what you graduated with, if you don't have real work experience you're going to have a challenge."
Meanwhile, there's little help coming from provincial and the federal government these days it seems. Austerity budgets at the both government levels are seeing civil servants laid off.
"They're certainly not in the business of job creation right now which I feel is a mistake," Schaefer says. "I was very pleased to see the federal government's YES strategy wasn't terminated and they threw a little extra money in. That was encouraging … but there's no encouragement at this point by the federal government for the private sector to do job creation (for youth)."
That's not to suggest there aren't seasonal jobs out there such as landscaping or in hospitality or tourism, but they're not what you'd consider well-paying jobs necessarily.
"These kinds of jobs are good for students in high school but graduates don't want these types of jobs. They've got their education and they want to get going," she says. "There are jobs for young people but it's hard work getting one. You have to get out there early or you'll be one of the ones without."
What you study can be the difference
To help alleviate this recurring theme, a big debate Canada needs to have should be focused on how well the education system is preparing students for the working world, YES' Schaefer suggests.
"What is the purpose of education? It is to prepare you for a job? Or is it to prepare you to think and problem-solve and study something you're passionate about?" she asks. "If young people choose to go the route of college, they can get excellent job skills and they have a higher placement rate directly from college into work."
It's certainly a sensitive topic for some, Parker says, but current and future post-secondary students need to take a hard look at what their course of study is and whether or not it'll lead to employment upon graduation.
"When I talk to high school teachers and guidance councillors about the kind of programs being offered to youth talk about 'what's your dream job?' versus educating kids on what jobs will be available to them," she says. "We have massive entry shortages in technology, engineering and biotechnology, across this country. In skilled labour (plumbers, electricians, welders), we have massive shortages. These are amazing careers and people aren't taking these courses."
Know how to sell yourself
Ultimately, Schaefer adds, the secret to landing a job is in knowing how to sell oneself.
"You have to be as competitive as someone who's been in the job market for 10 years," she says. "You've got to know how to do a job search, how to write a résumé, and you need to convince the employer that even though you haven't done a job before that you're a quick-learner and you're creative."
Fine-tune your own personal skills and don't despair.
"It's not impossible (to get a job)," she remarks. "In fact, if (young people) do all the right things they're going to increase their chances of getting a job; don't give up hope and get demotivated."
For students and graduates alike seeking work, Randstad Canada's Parker suggests:
*Target respected employers that best matches your skill set
*Offer to do free summer work for the sake of gaining experience and don't be picky about what's offered
*When applying to post-secondary institutions, choose schools that provide intern programs
*Be knowledgeable about where employment demand will be in the future and ensure your skills are also in demand
*Network constantly and don't limit your social networking efforts to just Facebook. Get on LinkedIn and get involved in community group discussions with experienced professionals in your area of career focus.