Young people hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic relieved to start working again
Those in the 15-24 age group disproportionately affected by layoffs
Young Manitobans have been among the hardest hit by job losses during the pandemic and among the last to return to work as health restrictions for gyms, recreation, and group activities have eased up in the province.
"My time during the pandemic or lockdown, away from this work, it was horrible, It was so traumatizing, I don't know how I can explain it but it was so horrible for me," said Didier Sebineza, a member of the 15-to-24 age group who lost their job because of COVID-19 but has finally returned to work.
Sebineza, who is originally from the Republic of the Congo, had just started his life in Canada after arriving in June of 2019 from a refugee camp in Botswana.
In August of 2020 he secured his first job at the The Hive Climbing and Fitness Centre through a partnership with the Newcomers Employment and Education Development Services Inc.
But less than three months later Sebineza was laid off because of gym closures.
"They [The Hive climbing gym] are everything in my life," Sebineza said. "I really appreciate actually being here and being given this opportunity to work here, [considering] all the things I've been passing through."
For folks who haven't been in the workforce before, their first job is really important to gaining those soft skills that make an individual really successful in the workforce ...- Kelsey Evans, executive director, Youth Employment Services
In February, Statistics Canada Data shows Manitoba's unemployment for youth between 15-24 has slowly started to shrink, dipping to 15.7 percent in February from 18.9 per cent in January.
Despite the improving numbers, young people returning are experiencing an unemployment rate much higher than those who are 25 years and older. Their unemployment rate sat at six per cent during the month of February.
Kelsey Evans, the executive director at Youth Employment Services, says youth have been disproportionately affected during the pandemic.
"For folks who haven't been in the workforce before, their first job is really important to gaining those soft skills that make an individual really successful in the workforce, whether that's managing your time, your schedule, customer service skills, all of those good things that you take for granted ... youth might be missing out on."
Evans says that entry level positions are extremely competitive and can leave a lot of people feeling discouraged when trying to enter into the workforce for the first time.
"Not having that experience, it's harder to break into the workforce, it's kind of a compounding effect," Evans said. "We'll kind of continue to see the ramifications on youth, even after restrictions start to lift, we'll see the ripple effects of this period for a while down the road."
Lise Brown, the co-owner of Momenta, an outdoor education and adventure therapy organization, says she is preparing to bring on more young staff for the summer.
She has already seen the impact of the lockdown on young people returning to work.
"Your first job there's a lot to figure out, and young people need that help to master it," she said. "Right now what we're experiencing is a lack of routine."
As an inclusive employer dedicated to helping young people develop, Brown says, employers need to be understanding as people transition back to work.
"We're over-staffing all of our programs by at least one staff, so that if someone is having a rough day then that's OK, we can still carry on with the program," she said.
Returning to work at the Hive climbing gym means that Sebineza has found a routine that he desperately missed.
"So being away almost four months, I always wake up and look at the calendar and say "When is it going to be the time I get and go to work again,'" he said.
"It was so horrible for me."
Sebineza says that work is more than just a way to help his family. His first job in Canada is about developing life skills including communication, culture understanding and building self-esteem.
"The Hive means the world to me," Sebineza said.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.