Large companies join forces to hire 40,000 Canadian youth

Eight large companies have joined forces under the banner Opportunity for All Youth (OFAY) coalition to hire 40,000 youth facing employment barriers over the next five years, starting by offering more than 150 jobs to young people in Toronto this June.

One of the coalition’s first initiatives will be a job fair in Toronto next month

Starbucks is one of eight companies who've pledged to hire a total of 40,000 disadvantaged and vulnerable Canadian youth over the next five years. (Mary Franssen/CBC)

Eight large companies have joined forces under the banner Opportunity for All Youth (OFAY) to hire 40,000 youth facing employment barriers over the next five years, starting by offering more than 150 jobs to young people in Toronto this June.

Starbucks, Walmart, Chipotle, HMSHost, Tridel Corporation, The Source, Coast Capital Savings and Telus made the announcement Wednesday morning.

"The most exciting thing about this is that not-for-profits and government agencies and companies with the jobs are going to work together, and together we can scale solutions much faster than we ever have before," said Luisa Girotto, vice president of public affairs with Starbucks Canada.

The coalition, backed by the MaRS Discovery District and local governments, specifically targets youths who are not employed, in education or training — NEET — between 16 and 29.

According to the release, there are one million NEET youth in Canada, 400,000 of which are actively seeking jobs.

Luisa Girotto says the coalition will hold job fairs in major cities across the country over the next few months. (Luisa Girotto)

Untapped workforce 

For several years, Starbucks has worked to employ youth facing barriers, according to Girotto.

"These youth really appreciate the opportunity. Their engagement is higher, their tenure and commitment is higher, it really is a win-win."

The coalition aims to follow their lead, tapping into an underused resource while also helping solve youth unemployment, according to OFAY coalition lead director Richard Derham, who's with the MaRS Discovery District.

Richard Derham called the coalition a 'business-led, demand-led initiative to address a pressing social issue.' (Richard Derham)

"All of the coalition employers do believe that businesses have a role to play in creating opportunities to help Canadian youth succeed in today's economy, but I think there is a reality for some of our coalition employers, they are having a tough time filling entry level opportunities," he said.

"I think many of these employers have not traditionally solicited or pushed hard to find interest from within a NEET youth demographic."

According to Vass Bednar, former chair of a 2016 federal expert panel on youth unemployment, the partnership between companies, government and community employment agencies is unprecedented in Canada.

Although their goal sounds modest, Bednar said, it'll make a difference to youth who want to feel valued and make a meaningful contribution in their community.

"It's still a lot of people. It's still ambitious that they're putting a goal out that we can all hold them accountable to," she said.

"These aren't forever jobs necessarily, and they're not for everyone, but they're going to build job relevant skills and also give people the experience of consistency, accountability with co-workers, the satisfaction of making those work contributions, the predictability of a paycheque."

How it's happening

The coalition plans to find these young people through job fairs – one of which they'll hold in Toronto next month, where they'll offer more than 150 jobs — and through local community employment agencies.

"We're going to rely a lot and partner a lot with not-for-profit agencies and governments," said Girotto.  "They already are connected to the youth who truly are classified as NEET."

In Toronto, the coalition will be working with The Partnership to Advance Youth Employment (PAYE), a joint initiative between private sector employers, the city of Toronto and community based agencies.

Sondley Forestan used the program a few years ago when he had trouble finding a job.

He moved to Canada as an international student in high school. Since he hadn't become a permanent resident yet, he decided post-secondary school would be too expensive and began applying for jobs.

"It was really hard to get your feet into the door," he said. "I would apply for multiple jobs and never get interviews and never get a call back."

Sondley Forestan says PAYE helped him land his current job at a bank. (Sondley Forestan)

His case worker introduced him to PAYE, where he received job coaching and practised mock interviews.

"I was able to obtain a job with a customer service representative. Now I'm a supervisor and I ... help mentor as well with the program," he said.

These community connections to clients like Forestan, who was considered a NEET youth, will be vital for the Opportunity for All Youth coalition to succeed, according to Bednar.

"It's hard to find NEET youth," she said. "This coalition is going to be tapping into those networks and those resources and those local champions who can help."

Call out for more companies

Both Girotto and Derham, the OFAY coalition lead director, want more companies to join the coalition, which would allow them to expand to more rural parts of the country.  

Currently, they're focused on the country's major cities.

"A lot of urban initiatives naturally privilege people who are connected to transit systems... there are also youth who fundamentally have a much harder geographic time accessing relevant opportunities to them," Bednar said.

Even more pressing in the coming years, according to Derham, is ensuring the coalition is making the difference they're advertising.

"It's a data piece to be honest," he said "It's how many youth we're managing to engage with our coalition employers and how they're faring."

About the Author

Taylor Simmons

Associate Producer, CBC Toronto

Taylor Simmons works in all areas of the CBC Toronto newsroom, from writing for the website to producing TV and radio stories. Taylor grew up in Mississauga, Ont. and studied journalism at Western University. You can reach her at taylor.simmons@cbc.ca.