Nearly a quarter of young Canadians are working at low-paying jobs beneath their skill level, such as pouring coffee and answering phones, the highest rate among 16 countries studied, a new report suggests.

A Canadian Policy Research Networks (CPRN) study released Thursday says 23.7 per cent of Canadians under age 25 report feeling overqualified for their jobs. That's the highest of among 16 nations that belong to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Canada's ranking is worse than that of the United States, where 19 per cent of youth say they feel overqualified in their jobs.

"There appears to be a mismatch between what young Canadians are being trained for and the jobs that are offered," says the report, which was done using a combination of research, interviews and employment data from Statistics Canada.

Ron Saunders, vice-president of research at CPRN and one of the three authors of the report, said young Canadians are looking for more and better information on how their schooling can translate into better, higher-paying jobs.

"If you can help people find a better fit you can make good matches happen faster," Saunders said.

The report shows the number of low-wage workers has increased in recent years, despite economic growth and a more educated workforce.

In 2000, 17.5 per cent of employed people aged 20 and over earned less than $10 an hour. In 2005, that figure, adjusted for inflation at $11.25, was 19.1 per cent.

"The fact is that the low wage share of the economy has been stubbornly high even in a period when unemployment rates were coming down," Saunders said.

The report recommends developing more co-op programs between schools and employers, encouraging more students to consider trade schools, and more study on the gap between employees' perception of an employee's qualifications and the educational requirements of their job.

"There could be many reasons for the reported gap: frustrations with their job; lack of awareness of job requirements; requirements that are higher than needed. Research in these areas could involve an examination of the distribution of earnings by age group and level of educational attainment," the report states.

Better job opportunities

Saunders said fixing the road between school and the workforce will not only bring better job opportunities for young people, but will help with a skill shortage expected as older workers retire in larger numbers.

Amanda Aziz, national chairwoman of the Canadian Federation of Students, said there is an unfair societal stereotype that Generation Y is spoiled, with abundant job opportunities waiting for them upon graduation as Baby Boomers retire.

"I find that a bit funny, since the cost of education is more than it has ever been in this country," said Aziz. She sees this as especially ironic given Canada's economy has boomed in recent years.

The result is many young people aren't able to afford school, and often have no choice but to take on minimum-wage work.

What's more, Aziz says, many secondary schools need to also highlight trade schools as an option for students: "A large segment of the population doesn't consider their children going to trade school, but they result in a lot of high-paying jobs."