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How COVID-19 is affecting young workers’ careers

October 19, 2020
By Pierre Chauvin

Graduating in a recession can have long-term impact on salaries and earnings. (Saksit/Adobe Stock)

Canada’s labour market is slowly digging out from the effects of the pandemic, with two-thirds of 3 million jobs lost now recovered. But one category of workers is still lagging behind — young people.

“Young workers are still highly affected,” said Louis-Philippe Beland, economist and assistant professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, who co-authored a paper in May describing the effects of the pandemic on the labour market.

Not surprisingly, the researchers concluded that the effects of the pandemic were “more pronounced for workers who are younger, unmarried or less educated.”

Those starting out their careers are by definition less likely to have senior positions within companies, which in turn leads to low job security, according to Beland.


“A lot of young workers are not in a position where they are able to work from home,” he said.

How employers can help

As the country braces itself for a second wave of the pandemic, employers can assist young people by showing more flexibility, said Beland.

The key reason — graduating in a recession can have long-term impact on salaries and earnings. This in turn has repercussions for the entire economy.

“If you graduate in a recession, it can affect your long-term salary,” Beland said, citing a study published in 2012 looking at Canadian graduates and their earnings. “And you never catch up.”

That flexibility can be proactively spending more time with new employees, according to André Raymond, director of the career centre and the continuing education centre at Laval University in Quebec City, and the president of CERIC.

The reason? Working remotely doesn’t offer the same opportunities for new workers to watch and learn from colleagues and get quick mentoring tips.

“We are expecting students and new workers will face some real challenge in the integration of their job,” Raymond said. “A lot of them will fail their first job experience.”

Video meetings can be helpful for employers who can rely on non-verbal clues to get a sense of an employee’s well-being.

“Human resources have to stop the fire when it appears at first,” he said.

Advice for young workers

For young people looking for work, Raymond urges them to make use of the many counselling services available, as job postings are decreasing.

For internships alone, Raymond said he noticed a 20 per cent decrease in demand from companies.

Besides the traditional support career counsellors provide — perfecting resumés, understanding the job market — they also connect job-seekers with employers at a time when career fairs are done through a screen and help them develop new strategies to reach employers.

Raymond said he is expecting an increase in career counselling services, as a lot of jobs are becoming more task-oriented because of the remote aspect.

In short — the job they now have is not the job they signed up for. For young apprentices and those studying in trades, flexibility is key as remote learning opportunities are limited.

“The reality is, 80 per cent of apprenticeship happens on the job through experience working with a certified journey person,” according to Shelley Gray, CEO of B.C.’s Industry Training Authority (ITA).

Because the impact of the pandemic varies wildly between trades, between the ones that fall within government-designed essential services — such as construction — and the ones like the service industry that, even with layers of protection, are struggling to stay afloat, ITA is working on a “trade up to a new career” campaign.

For people who had that hands-on satisfaction of their work, it’s looking at whether there are other trades ITA can help them migrate into, said Gray. And for those who want to stick with their current trades, ITA is looking at whether they can proceed with the next level of schooling.

Leveraging existing resources

ITA’s also had to educate employers on financial incentives available to them that would allow them to take on an apprentice.

“When times were economically strong, a lot of employers hadn’t used a lot of those services and grants,” Gray said.

Options such as sharing a new employee with another business are now becoming more appealing for employers and allow more apprentices to enter the market.

Raymond cites the Student Work Placement Program at CEWIL, launched in 2017, to support paid work experience in science, technology, engineering, math and business programs across the country.

Since the start of the pandemic, the federal government has expanded the program to any field and sector, except for the public service, allowing employers to get up to 75 per cent of a student salary covered.

“Just for the province of Quebec, and just for this summer, (that’s) more than 3,000 subventions under that program,” he said. “It’s true that it has a real impact, helping a lot of small and big companies to create more placement.”

With the pandemic here to last for the foreseeable future, the long hours spent at home or on Zoom have also brought a new set of challenges for all employees’ mental health.

Raymond urges employers to be proactive for all employees, new and existing ones.

“We are only at the beginning of the challenge,” he said.

Pierre Chauvin is a freelance journalist in Victoria, B.C.

This feature story was published in the fall 2020 issue of Talent Canada.

This story has been updated.

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