Young people are more educated now than ever before.

According to Statistics Canada, post-secondary enrollment has increased in five of the last six years for which there is data.

Nearly 450,000 people were enrolled in post-secondary school in 2010-2011. More than 250,000 students will graduate this year, alone.

Students at college and university are graduating with an average debt of $27,000.

Yet in January, Canada's youth unemployment rate was at 13.5 per cent, nearly twice the overall national rate.

So where are the jobs? What's the best education to have? How does a high school student prepare for a future that can sometimes seem so bleak?

"It's hard. You don't really know. You don't know who to talk to. You don't know  where to go. You don't have the tools to figure out who to talk to," said Grade 11 Villanova student Emily Hutnik. "How do I know how  much I'll make? Is it worth pursuing? It's really hard.

"You're making a lot of choices in Grade 11 for what you'll study in Grade 12 and  that affects what you'll study after high school."

Hutnik isn't alone in fretting about the future.

The Toronto District School Board's latest census of its students showed that 73 per cent of students between Grades 9 and 12 say they are worried about their future, compared to just 46 per cent and 33 per cent of students who were concerned over family matters and relationship issues, respectively.

New program helps form career path

Donna Marentette of Workforce Windsor-Essex, an organization that facilitates and advocates for regional workforce development, sees the struggle on a daily basis.

'It took the stress away and helped me understand myself better.' — Emily Hutnik, student

That's why the organization has developed a new program, designed to better prepare youth for employment.

The WE Nav Program assesses the student's skills, allows high school students to sit in on a university of college class, spend a day shadowing a job or career they may be interested in. It asks what employers are looking for and what employers expect.

"The program is meant to pick up where the

[high school] guidance counsellors leave off," said Marentette, the executive director of Workforce Windsor Essex.

Hutnik, who wants to pursue a business career and maybe become an entrepreneur, was the program's first client.

"It took the stress away and helped me understand myself better," she said.

Hutnik received what Marentette called "a deep discount" but the program will eventually cost each person approximately $1,000.

"Our goal is to make that more available. We're just developing the program," Marentette said. "We've been developing  partnerships and asking, 'is there a way to do it that's economical and affordable?'"

Marentette said that in today's climate, spending a little money now is better than spending a lot after high school.

"It's better to pay a little up front and know your child is making the right decisions than pay for four years of university and have your child say I'm in the wrong program," Marentette said.

Start thinking of career 'in kindergarten'

Hutnik and Marentette said kids are waiting to long to decide on a career path. It costs time, money and experience.

'When you finally start to take it seriously, it's almost too late.' — Donna Marentette, Workforce Windsor-Essex

"I think it should start with elementary school. Have kids think about it," Hutnik said.

"In Grade 7," said Marentette, "but kindergarten would be better. It's one of those things that when you finally start to take it seriously, it's almost too late."

Marentette said she's very familiar with students who either study what their parents want and end up unhappy or students who major in something they thought they would like and only end up hating it.

"Lots of students follow a path they didn't like," she said. "People may say, 'I know my parents want me to be a doctor, but in my heart of hearts I want to be an entrepreneur.'"

When asked if job availability is considered when counselling a high school student, Herman High School's head of guidance, Teresa Piskovic, said the student's wants and interests are most important if "they're genuinely interested in a career path."

"Our board is mindful and thoughtful about where the needs are in this community," she said. "We do really closely look at Grade 12s, as far as where they are heading."

Piskovic is one of two counsellors at her school, which has an enrollment of approximately 800. There are three counsellors for 1,500 students at Villanova.

Hutnik isn't sure if that's enough.

"There is not a lot of time for one-on-one counselling. I don't think they know who I am," Hutnik said. "They have a lot going on. It's very hard for them to narrow it down and work with you to figure out your life."

CBC Windsor will hold a town hall examining youth unemployment. Help Wanted: Is education failing our students? will happen March 20 at the University of Windsor Engineering building, beginning at 7 p.m. Panellists include University of Windsor president Alan Wildeman, St. Clair College president John Strasser, economist Mark Meldrum and Rylan Kinnon, the executive director of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance.

Beginning March 18, tune into The Early Shift and The Bridge on 97.5 FM at 6 a.m. and 4 p.m., respectively, and CBC Windsor at Six on channel 9, cable 10 and Bell 587 at 6 p.m., for continue coverage of this topic.

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