A brief released by the NCO, a think-tank within Brock University, has shown a serious difference between levels of youth education in the Niagara region and job opportunities. The report, titled “Youth Employment in Niagara: Mapping the Opportunities” was released by the NCO on Nov. 15. The paper discusses how, although the Niagara region has higher levels of education attainment than the provincial average (in terms of high school, college, and apprenticeship degrees) and almost half of the ‘youth’ population in Niagara have some form of post-secondary degree, the vast majority of jobs in the region are found in the food services and retail sectors. These are sectors in which the jobs are predominantly forms of ‘precarious work’: meaning work that is part-time, contract, lacking stability and comprehensive benefits, and often low-wage.
Research conducted by the Niagara Community Observatory for the report shows that, on average, two out of every five youth (i.e.,individuals aged 20 to 24) work in accommodation and the food services/retail trade industry in Niagara. Although youth unemployment may not appear on paper to be a major issue in the region, the report indicates that many youth in Niagara are overeducated for their current employment. There also appears to be a ‘skills gap’ in the region, as most youth education is focused on the sectors of health care, business management, and engineering technologies.
The NCO is a ‘public-policy think tank’ which works alongside both Brock and the Niagara region to conduct and examine research on major issues in the area. Dr. Charles Conteh is the director of the NCO, and also works in Brock’s Department of Political Science as an associate professor who specializes in public policy and governance. Asides from work with the Niagara community, the NCO has also worked with the University of Buffalo in a bilateral initiative to develop a ‘Cross-Border Innovation and Prosperity Initiative’.
Carol Phillips, Research Co-ordinator for the NCO, keep about the nature of precarious employment, and how the research conducted by the NCO can be used to influence public policy and create more appropriate youth employment in Niagara.
“Precarious employment can be described as temporary employment where you don’t know where you’re going to work next, and is contract-to-contract,” Phillips explained. “Some examples of precarious employment can include not having guaranteed hours at your job and working on-call shifts. Employment statistics can often have a tendency to veil these kinds of qualities in a job.”
When asked about some potential public policy solutions to these sorts of systemic issues for youth employment, Phillips said that the research conducted by the NCO can be used to open up discussion about how to fix the employment situation in Niagara.
“People think if we attract more companies and have a real job creation strategy in Niagara, more educated people will stay,” Phillips stated. “There is an overriding feeling that the solution to this all comes back to economic development.”
In terms of next steps for the NCO’s research, Phillips explained that the upcoming release of Census data will enable employment researchers to take a more constructive approach going forward.
“On November 29th, the latest Census numbers will be released on education”, Phillips explained. “We can then compare what’s happened with youth employment in the last five years and use those numbers to move forward. We can then continue the research in the area to see what’s different and move on and decide how to research why this is occurring.”