Community Comment, by Mike Brown
Earlier this month, the Chamber of Commerce made the decision to create a new category for the Revelstoke Business Excellence Awards Gala. The new Youth Employer Award, first conceived of in the 2011 Revelstoke Youth Action Plan and championed by the Youth Initiative Committee, will acknowledge a local business or organization for excellence in hiring, mentoring and creating work experiences for young people in Revelstoke. In an economic climate in which youth (federally defined as those 15 to 30 years of age) are excluded from the workforce at nearly double the rate of the average worker, this award represents a meaningful acknowledgement by the business community that providing opportunities for youth is both a social imperative and a community good.
How does employing youth constitute a social imperative? As noted in the 2011 Youth Action Plan, young people complete a successful psychological transition to adulthood when they have been provided with adequate opportunities to achieve independence, mastery, belonging and generosity.
Work environments frequently provide opportunities for young workers to learn new soft and hard skills, gain a degree of financial freedom, belong to a productive group, and provide a service to the community.
Wages paid to young workers are also more likely to be invested in further education, a scenario in which the community is essentially betting on itself. A highly skilled local workforce will attract a certain quality of investment, and the purchasing power of skilled workers will be returned to the community through the increased consumption of local goods and services.
Recent research has also suggested a link between entrepreneurship and an individual’s history of working in small enterprise. Writing in Business Strategy Review, Maria Minetti notes that the opportunity to observe entrepreneurial activity is an important factor in ones decision to become an entrepreneur.
Other research suggests that as many as 60 per cent of small business owners or founders worked in businesses with less than 50 employees immediately before starting their own enterprise.
As community members we certainly aren’t required to be up on the latest academic research to understand the importance of role models in young people’s lives. Every small business creates new economic activity and opportunity in a community, and young people who observe entrepreneurial role models are more likely to become enterprising themselves.
Unfortunately for young workers, seasonal fluctuation in local economic activity can often lead to work shortages, layoffs or dismissals that are out of the control of the individual. As youth are frequently the last workers to be hired onto a job, they are often the first to be let go in lean times.
Clearly, while youth bring many positive attributes to the workplace, their lack of experience can make them vulnerable when the businesses they work for become financially strained. To provide incentive and feasibility for businesses to maintain younger workers in the workplace on a more stable basis, some great incentives are now available to employers that meet the appropriate criteria. Examples include the Columbia Basin Trust School Works program, the Get Youth Working program funded through the Canada-B.C. Labour Market Agreement, and Service Canada employment training programs delivered locally through Okanagan College.
The Revelstoke Community Development Action Plan outlines myriad goals for maintaining the community as a place of vibrant family life and opportunity for future generations. However, without engaged citizens who have the resources to take an active interest in civic life and defend the values that the document sets forth, this vision will simply not survive.
Promoting meaningful youth employment as a business practice to be honored is a good first step in creating an atmosphere in which young people are exposed to exciting local economic opportunities. This can only improve the odds of youth choosing to put down more permanent roots in Revelstoke.
The Youth Employer Award is a great example of productive partnership and collaboration between the community social planning and local business sectors. While on the surface this award appears a small addition to the annual Chamber of Commerce event, it speaks volumes to the interest local stakeholders have taken in ensuring Revelstoke achieves its vision as a place of equal opportunity for all. Okanagan College and the Youth Initiative Committee look forward to creating future partnerships with local businesses and organizations to ensure Revelstoke continues to be a great place for young people to thrive.
Mike Brown is a part-time Youth Skills Liaison at Okanagan College, Revelstoke. For more information on wage subsidy programs for youth, please contact WorkBC.