Dene Moore: An acute labour shortage is made worse when young people have fewer options to get to work.
Roofing labourers. Line cooks. Convenience store cashier. Carpenter. Office Administrator. Assayer. Millwright.
These are few of the 169 jobs posted in the past four weeks in the Cariboo region. There is a labour shortage in B.C. and business owners in small communities are feeling it.
Traditionally, frontline service jobs have been the entry into employment for many teens. Working weekends and after school is how many discover their talents – or sometimes what is NOT their talent.
How many tradespeople introduced to their future livelihood with an unofficial mentorship running tools and sweeping floors? How many entrepreneurs and university graduates were inspired to work harder by the disappointment of their first minimum-wage paycheque?
B.C. doesn’t appear to track employment among workers aged 15-18 but I would be surprised if the number hasn’t dwindled to near extinction in small communities where public transit is not available.
I got my first real job at 15, working Friday nights and weekends at a women’s clothing store; once I turned 16, I drove myself to and from work. Or school. Or soccer practice, or any number of activities that shaped my young life.
That first retail job was an education, working with wonderful colleagues and some not-so-wonderful customers. I saved less than I should have and didn’t learn as much as I could have but it helped me get a foot in the door to next job and the job after that.
That’s not an option for most rural teens today.
Few live within walking distance of job sites; there are no safe bike lanes, even in summer; many have two working parents who can’t chauffeur them until they’re old enough to vote or join the military.
The changes to driver licencing seemed a no-brainer at the time. Of course it would reduce accidents and save money, right?
I asked the Crown auto insurance provider a while back for statistics comparing the overall crash rate in B.C. in 1997 (the year before the regime was put in place) and 2020. I received a link to ICBC data going back five years.
So the jury is out on whether infantilizing 16- to 18-year-olds had the desired effect on road accidents. It certainly didn’t have the desired effect on my insurance rates.
What it did in rural British Columbia beyond the 604 was cause a labour shortage felt most acutely in small businesses that offer entry-level minimum wage jobs.
The less obvious cost is the long-term impact on teens robbed of the experience of spreading their wings while still in the safety of the family home.
In the U.S., where statistics are tracked for 16- to 19-year-olds, a study last year found from 2000 to 2018, teen labour force participation dropped almost 16 percentage points and accounted for more than a third of the decline in overall working-age labour force participation.
It’s been in decline since 1979, the study by the Hamilton Project pointed out – not surprising since job requirements and high school completion rates have been on the rise.
The study says the shrinking workforce participation is fine if it means greater focus on education.
But with the cost of post-secondary education on the rise, the declining saving power of the middle-class, and the inability of teens to work in order to contribute to their own post-secondary costs, there is a risk that the teens of today will miss out on both.
There are possible solutions.
Teens in designated rural areas of B.C. could be permitted to drive during a restricted window of time – 8:30 am to 9:30 pm, say – and within a restricted area of their home, perhaps 100 kilometres. They could have a shortened six-month learner’s period, mandatory driving lessons, a zero-tolerance policy for infractions, a prohibition on any passengers in the vehicle.
Remember when insurance worries prompted a couple of cities to try and ban tobogganing? Sometimes we have too many solutions in search of a problem.
But given the bureaucratic preference for one-size-fits-all policies and the overwhelming case for urban teens to use public transit, I won’t wait for any changes that will help small town businesses owners fill those vacancies.
Dene Moore is an award-winning journalist and writer. A news editor and reporter for The Canadian Press news agency for 16 years, Moore is now a freelance journalist living in the South Cariboo. Moore’s two decades in daily journalism took her as far afield as Kandahar as a war correspondent and the Innu communities of Labrador. She has worked in newsrooms in Vancouver, Montreal, Regina, Saskatoon, St. John’s and Edmonton. She has been published in the Globe and Mail, Maclean’s magazine, the New York Times and the Toronto Star, among others. She is a Habs fan and believes this is the year.
- Dene Moore last wrote that buying an Orange Shirt to support residential school survivors – good. Making sure it’s from and supports the right organization – vital.
- Canada also faces a doctor shortage, enough so that even pouring money at the problem would only have limited results. We need systemic change, says Roslyn Kunin.
- A looming driver shortage also casts a pall on the trucking industry, writes Bob Price.