Employment prospects for younger Canadians looking for work are not as dismal as widely believed, a report released by the Certified General Accountants Association of Canada today suggests.

The report argues that the peak unemployment rate among those aged 15 to 24 peaked at 15.2 per cent during the latest recession, lower than the high of 19.2 per cent in the 1983 downturn and 17.2 per cent in 1992.

And young people tended to find work faster than mature workers. "One of the most important messages is that the opportunites will come to young workers," the CGA's Rock Lefebvre said.

'You don't have to be a lawyer to be successful anymore'—Rock Lefebvre

In 2011, it says, 46.8 per cent of unemployed young people found a job within four weeks, compared with 27 per cent of mature job seekers.

The study also suggests the quality of jobs for young people has been improving during the recovery.

Young people found 32,500 higher-wage jobs over the three years to October 2011 while the number for mature workers contracted by 0.7 per cent.

"And a greater number of them are seeing an increase in real wages," Lefebvre said. "In terms of medians and averages, young workers are doing well compared to others."

The biggest silver lining, he says is that policymakers are focusing on the alleged skills shortage coming as baby boomers retire, but that will eventually create openings. "I think there's a lot of opportunity," Lefebvre said.

Underemployment bigger issue

A bigger challenge, the report warns, is underemployment of the young, as the proportion of those employed in lower-skilled occupations remained unchanged between 1990 and 2011, despite an increase in educational attainment.

Underemployment, it says, leads to loss of skills, knowledge and abilities, lower income, job dissatisfaction and emotional distress, which may, in turn, have health effects.

"We're actually either producing too many college grads or our economy and service sector is not growing at the same pace as our institutions," Lefebvre said. "There's a mismatch somewhere."

The CGA-Canada recommends educators and employers cooperate better in tailoring training to meet the needs of business.

It also suggests governments strive to improve Canadian competitiveness, in order to promote an increase in higher-paying jobs.

"I actually encouraged my son to be an electrician, but unfortunately we went into commerce because his old man did," Lefebvre jokes.

"You don't have to be a lawyer to be successful anymore," he says.