Few people would argue that a high school diploma is worthless—it’s certainly more than just another piece of paper. But completing high school is not a guarantee of success in the next phase of life, whether the graduate is enrolling in college or beginning a job.
A study conducted in 2018 for the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses (CFIB) concluded that high schools are not adequately preparing students to join the workforce. According to The Canadian Press, more than half of CFIB members reported some level of dissatisfaction with high school-age workers.
The report says employers are overwhelmingly more interested in young employees with good motivation, attitude and other life skills. Industry-specific knowledge and previous work experience are much lower priorities.
It concludes that high schools should place more emphasis on workplace literacy by partnering with the business community. This will give students a leg up and ensure the right skills are being taught, a concept that Canadian business executive Mathieu Chantelois fully embraces.
As a vice president with Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada, Chantelois believes a long-term investment in young people will always pay off. “The real strength of our Clubs is the over 6,000 caring, trained, trustworthy professionals who mentor kids and teens every day in more than 700 communities across the country,” says Chantelois.
He believes Canada needs a national after-school strategy that makes sure young people have a safe, supportive environment where they can find everything they need to succeed—and especially those that need it the most.
Chantelois challenges other business owners and adults: “If you’re not mentoring someone, why not? It should be part of your legacy.”
Scott Hillier, president and CEO at JA Canada, agrees that early skill development is essential in ensuring lifelong success. “Students who go through a JA program learn fundamental concepts that help them develop the ability and discipline to make wise personal and financial decisions.”
According to Hillier, JA programs provide real-life knowledge and experience that helps young people learn how to effectively manage a budget, and understand how major decisions such as staying in school impact future financial success and help them achieve their life goals.
Jonathan Lister, vice-president of sales solutions and Canada country manager for LinkedIn, reports that a 2018 workplace study found that training for soft skills such as leadership, communication and collaboration is the No. 1 priority for talent-development teams.
According to Lister, “There are already too many young people—more than 800,000 in Canada—who are disconnected from employment opportunities, and every professional and leader has a role to play in helping to close this divide.”
Lister says that the work being done by organizations such as CivicAction Toronto is helping to put the right pieces in place to pave a better path for Canada’s young people: “Getting this right will be a defining issue of our time,” Lister adds.