Stephen Poloz, the Bank of Canada governor, recommended this past week that jobless university graduates living in their parents’ basements beef up their resumes by working for free.

Speaking to a House of Commons committee he suggested that young Canadians and others struggling to find work should acquire more experience through unpaid internships or volunteering until the country’s slowed job market picks up. He predicted it would improve over the next two years.

Poloz told the committee that when a young person asks for advice on getting through the tough times, he said, “Volunteer to do something which is at least somewhere related to your expertise so that it’s clear that you are gaining some learning experience during that period.”

As someone who has immersed herself in the Career Development field for the last year following the publishing of my resource book to the millennial youth, We’re Not Gonna Take a youth’s toolbag of essential life skills for transitioning from high school to post-secondary education to the workplace, and now currently looking for work myself, I can tell you the messages we are giving our youth are confusing at best and allow for abuse in our systems by educators and employers.

The last four years I have focused my attention on our youth, the millennials, otherwise known as the “lost generation”, and more recently the Gen Z. I researched the market for one and a half years and then wrote the youth resource book mentioned above. I have developed and manage three websites, have developed numerous programs related to empowering our youth with life skills workshops and speaking, a dual mentoring/intergenerational program and written over 1000 blogs. All this I have created, developed, inspired, and led from idea to project completion and YET I am hearing from the placement agencies in my own search that my experience doesn’t fit into the ‘specific needs’ of employers. Really? I am a self-starter, driven, know how to develop and build successful relationships, have the grit and determination, detail-oriented and take full accountability and responsibility for my outcome: good or bad. I am also being told I need to start at entry level earning $25,000-$35,000.

I sit back and think to myself, I have accomplished more in four years than many senior people. Do they know what it takes to self-publish a book?

I liken my work time to the volunteer or intern time the youth would take to gain technical and essential soft/life skills.

I have no problem encouraging our youth to get out there and gain valuable experience and skill sets that can be brought into the workplace. I believe, though, that this experience needs to be gained during their high school and post-secondary years NOT after they graduate. Those 8 years are valuable and used wisely can give our youth the “entry level” worth of experience so that when they graduate they are work-ready. More importantly, this work experience needs to be valued by employers.

I believe in both instances, this is where our educators and corporate world are failing our children.

The problem with Poloz’s message is that it opens up the door to more abuse of the intern system that already exists. Interning and mentoring as it once existed in my parents’ age is no longer. Companies see these kids a “free labour” and not as an “investment”. What are we teaching our kids? This is not empowering to our youth. It can often lead to a lower self-worth for we are not showing value and paying as though this were “a valued contribution”.

Free labour benefits the corporate world. And for the youth that decide to go back and “upgrade” because they believe this will give them a better chance to find work (it likely won’t just make you more educated and no more work experience) our educators love this and I feel take advantage of it, for it adds $s to their revenue stream.

Finance Minister, Joe Oliver, said he wants more paid work for unemployed young people. In fairness Poloz may be referring to the old Catch 22 adage, “Young people who can’t find work because they don’t have experience and they don’t have they don’t have the experience because they can’t get a job.” I experienced this in 1990 during the recession when I began looking for work. The difference today is that I took a one month contract job and turned it into 4 years of employment while today many employers relish the idea of keeping the youth on contract work for it reduces their benefit costs and they can release the young employee with much more ease.

I found one article in the letters section on my paper, National Post, interesting. Conny Di, Guelph, Ont. said in response to Poloz’s comments:

“Instead of suggesting young people looking for work accept unpaid internships, Stephen Poloz should lead by example by donating 10% of his paycheque to fund interns working at the Bank of Canada, thus providing exceptional experience and development for young Canadians. Even if they were paid minimum wage, the impact would be significant, and Mr. Poloz would have displayed true leadership. And if he really wanted to display unequivocal leadership qualities, why not challenge other senior government officials and corporate executives to do the same? What a start that would be for the development of our future leaders.”

The problem with “free” is that we do not value “free”. We like it, but really we do not value it. If we are going to provide internships and volunteer experiences for the youth we need to make it valuable and have meaning so that when a young person does apply for work, the organization and/or person reading the resume sees the “work and/or experience” as real work and a contribution to ROI, growth, etc.

My message to the youth is to take your high school years and post-secondary years and get as much hands-on experience that you can: summer employment, volunteering, interning, community work, part-time work, and even through your own entrepreneurship efforts. Find a mentor personally or a leader you value and see what qualities in that leader you would like to emulate than make it your own.

When searching for work look for the companies that have corporate cultures that value their employees; see them as assets and look to engaging and motivating them. You can bring your “intrepreneurship” qualities and core competencies to these organizations. For those more drawn to entrepreneurship I say bypass the “old school, outdated systems” that are pushing our kids down and build your future – make a contribution. Use the internships and volunteering and community work as a time to learn, grow, ask questions, mentor with the best and then take all of this experience and go for it!

Parents it is time to wake up and understand what your children are truly facing. Encourage them to get out there and get hands-on life skills in high school and post-secondary; look for the coop programs that will give them the technical and life/soft skills; letting them sit in the basement is no more healthy for you as it is for them.

For our government officials and corporate Canada we are creating a situation which will have long term impact on the quality of life for Canadians. The longer our children are underemployed and out of work the less tax-base contributions we have; less youth can afford homes, cars, consumable products/services and so forth. There will be a ripple effect to our short-sightedness.

For the youth, it is time to invest in your own future. You are fully responsible.

I know this was a heavy article. It saddens and frustrates me how we address youth unemployment. Are our kids an investment or not?

I hope that this article makes you think.

I want to wish all of you a wonderful weekend.

For me and my kids, its baby steps. I will do my best with what I know.

All my love,

Sandra

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