In October 2023, TNLIP had the opportunity to attend and present at the First Work Futures Conference with colleagues from NorQuest College and World Education Services. Our Research and Communications Coordinator presented highlights and findings of the Hidden Talent: Unlocking the Employment Potential of Newcomer Youth in the Toronto Region report, a joint research project with JVS Toronto, TRIEC, and WoodGreen Community Services.
The First Work Futures 2023 Conference was held October 25-27 in Blue Mountain Village. This annual conference hosts over 400 professionals each year, including employers, government, and employment support organizations. The conference focuses on professional development, labour market trends, best practices for engagement, and elevating employment programming. This year, Rachelle Molto, the Research and Communications Coordinator with the Toronto North Local Immigration Partnership, attended to present the Youth Employment Employment and Skills Strategy final report, Hidden Talent: Unlocking the Employment Potential of Newcomer Youth in the Toronto Region.
The first keynote presentation introduced the theme of participatory experiences with the African Village Experience. Rather than watching a performance the way one would watch a movie, the presentation was intended to be a two way exchange between the African Village Experience and the conference attendees. Participation in the forms of singing, dancing, clapping, and moving was encouraged from conference attendees with those on the stage. The principles of participatory experiential interaction can be transferred into all aspects of work and human interaction, including to the social services and employment services sector.
Many speakers in the subsequent sessions discussed various aspects of labour market trends and the future of work. They highlighted that Gen Z constitutes 23% of the workforce and also emphasized the role of generative AI. The hybrid work model and the rise of side hustles, such as influencers, were discussed as important trends in the labour market. The value of traditional degrees was questioned, with an emphasis on the need for universities to innovate due to the technological potential of AI and the “death of the university essay,” as well as the high costs associated with obtaining a degree. It was noted that students collectively owe $24 billion in federal loans alone, as the average cost of a degree is $28,000. The University of Toronto recently began offering free tuition for nine different First Nations.
Additional labour market trends were discussed, including an 11.3% unemployment rate for youth and 18% experiencing mental health effects in 2022. The 2021 Census revealed a significant number of non-Permanent Residents, mainly from India and China, with a substantial portion living in unsuitable housing and being overqualified for their jobs. The discussion also touched on the impact of AI on various sectors, with Microsoft’s recent launch of its CoPilot AI and the emergence of new careers like Chief AI Officer and prompt engineers. There was also discussion of shifting to address the side of employers, rather than employees, when addressing changes and challenges in the labour market. Ontario was noted as a leader in this regard by one speaker.
Challenges related to work and staffing were discussed in some of the sessions, as there are notable difficulties in many sectors to hire and retain staff. In regards to compensation, many staff in social service sector jobs are lost to private and post-secondary institutions, where they can access more job security, benefits, and better pay. One of the speakers noted that those in the social service sector are overall tired and burnt out, and that there should be more respect and recognition for care workers and social service workers. Opportunities for the social sector to offer more benefits to employees was discussed. For example, Toronto Metropolitan University now offers 5 additional holidays for Indigenous staff to use as they need. Bringing back fun collective activities, like family picnics, was also noted as an opportunity for the sector to better support its staff. Furthermore, the importance of in-person conversations and informal interactions in the post-pandemic work environment was highlighted. One speaker noted the value of informal conversations and “watercooler chats” as important opportunities for learning.
One session overviewed ways to make labour market information (LMI) accessible and usable to youth. When working with youth, it is important to note sources of information which youth identified as trustworthy. Parents were identified as trusted sources of information as well as people already employed in a job, while the government, teachers, and schools were identified as least trusted. As well, a key point was noted about how to make labour market information accessible to youth. LMI should be provided as a core component of career guidance and should be presented in a way which is engaging and captures the interest of youth.
There was much discussion of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) related themes in the conference. After the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, the Black Lives Matter movement strongly influenced many organizations, including private, public, government, and non-profit, to implement EDI principles and anti-racism work. Initially, many new positions were created related to EDI. Now three and a half years later, many EDI staff are being let go and laid off, as EDI and anti-racism work is not viewed as a strong priority and is no longer trendy.
The TNLIP are grateful to World Education Services for the invitation to present the Youth Employment and Skills Strategy research report. It was an incredible opportunity to share the research, to learn, and to collaborate with colleagues regarding employment and the future of work.