Future-proof Canada's economy by investing in youth hard-hit by pandemic

Open letter from youth groups calls on feds to build back better by investing in training for young people

covid youth unemployment

By Puninda Thind, George P.R. Benson, Daniela Pico, Dominique Souris, Ana Gonzalez Guerrero, Rita Steele, Alyssa McDonald


The COVID-19 pandemic has upended our global economic and social systems and laid bare their inequities. Some of our society’s most vulnerable populations and most undervalued professions have been hit hardest during this crisis. While youth are largely presumed to have avoided many of the worst health impacts of the coronavirus, the pandemic has affected them severely in other ways.

The youth unemployment rate in Canada rose to 29.4% in May, up from 16.8% in March. Young people who have kept their jobs since the onset of COVID-19 have experienced steep reductions in the number of working hours. And Canadian youth aren’t alone. A recent  International Labour Organization survey on youth unemployment found that young people around the world have been severely and disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 crisis, especially young women. For those young people who are still pursuing education, the pandemic is likely to result in unprecedented new inequalities upon graduation.

All of this is compounding one of the greatest workforce challenges of the 21st century: the skills gap for young workers, in Canada and around the world. Youth are on the frontlines of major transformations across the global economy, including digitalization, automation and climate action. Skills-proofing will be essential as the speed of change and disruptions transforms the future of work. As the latest Jobs of Tomorrow report from the World Economic Forum notes, demand for jobs in the care and green economies in particular is on the rise. It’s important to ensure that young people are equipped and empowered to combat longstanding challenges to our society, particularly the threat of climate change.

There are more young people in the world than ever before, and they are critical members of the global society driving ideas, innovations and movements. Investing in, training and retraining young people now can help get them back to work immediately while building a more just, inclusive and resilient Canada – one that’s on a path to carbon neutrality. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada had been preparing for a skills revolution, as noted by Employment and Social Development Canada, RBC, the Brookfield Institute and many others. The Canadian government has already made some meaningful commitments, such as investing in creating green jobs and training opportunities for Canadian youth in the natural resources and clean technology sectors.

In light of this, as youth leaders and allies from across the country, we have written an open letter to the Government of Canada, urging leaders to invest in youth training and skills development, as well as ensuring equitable access to these opportunities, as part of its COVID-19 response and economic recovery plan. This proposal lays out the rationale for this investment and breaks it down into three streams of recommendations:

  1. Invest in future-proofed and essential skills for youth entering the workforce and people whose work is in transition.
  2. Invest in sector-specific skills and technical training to address the most pressing problems facing our society, particularly the climate crisis.
  3. Invest immediately in job-creation programs, such as expansion of the Student Work Placement Program (SWPP) and increased funding for developing innovative work-integrated learning (WIL) opportunities for students.

Young people are crucial to economic recovery efforts. We believe that we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reshape the foundations of Canada’s economy, prepare our youth to thrive in the future of work, generate widespread prosperity and lay the groundwork for a safer, cleaner, more equitable world. Our letter presents detailed solutions to build back better by increasing Canada’s collective human capital.

We believe that now is a time to significantly increase these efforts to achieve a resilient, inclusive economic future. During these challenging times, the best investments will be made in people.


Puninda Thind is a sustainability professional, climate justice organizer and World Economic Forum Global Shaper.

George P.R. Benson is a resilience thinker and practitioner working on economic development, urban planning and climate change.

Daniela Pico is a community builder, marketer and entrepreneur. She is director of external relations at Riipen, a technology company on a mission to end graduate underemployment; a World Economic Forum Global Shaper; a mentor with Girls in Tech; and a connector with League of Innovators.

Dominique Souris works to enable youth to create just and climate-resilient futures as the co-founder and executive director of Youth Climate Lab, a youth-for-youth global organization focused on transformative climate action.

 Ana Gonzalez Guerrero is the co-founder of and managing director at Youth Climate Lab, where she works alongside youth to build a more inclusive and sustainable future.  

Rita Steele is a sustainability professional, food systems activist and World Economic Forum Global Shaper who is passionate about transforming the global supply chain into systems that centre equity, justice and the environment and support a circular economy.

Alyssa McDonald is an organizational psychology consultant who advances sustainability through her work with the Canadian Collaboration for Sustainable Procurement and the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers Community.


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