Young, unemployed and losing hope in BC's boom economy

A rising youth unemployment rate in BC is not what Millennials expected when the BC Jobs Plan was unveiled. The government says be patient:  good times are still around the corner. 

Kalinda Bastaja, unemployed university graduate

The quote on the BC government website is a job seekers dream:  “As BC’s economy grows, more than one million job openings are expected.”

The reality, for Kalinda Bastaja, is slightly less effusive.

“I’m putting myself out there, selling myself saying I can do a good job for you, but I need that opportunity."

Bastaja is no stranger to work. From the time she was 15, she has worked in the retail business. From stocking shelves, serving customers and even doing accounting when needed. During university, she continued to help make ends meet by working weekends and off-hours in the retail business.  But her heart, and education, have always pointed in a different direction.

Bastaja spent four years at Thompson Rivers University earning an honours degree in psychology and sociology. Now on her own, she has spent the past six months actively looking to land a job and start her career in the health care industry, either with a health authority or a health service provider. So far the search has been futile.

"I‘d like to be working and doing something that I enjoy since I have the skills in front of me.“

Bastaja has discovered government job projections are a far cry from reality. She is now one of thousands of unemployed university students in BC searching for jobs in a province where the government has been promising good times for more than two years.

“Is it frustrating that I am not in it right now? Of course.”

Kalinda Bastaja meeting with career counselor

Kalinda Bastaja meeting with Career Zone counselor in downtown Vancouver (Mike Chisholm photo)

Like many unemployed youth, Bastaja turned to career counselors and the services of the YWCA-operated Career Zone in downtown Vancouver to help find that elusive job.

“I’ve been hitting all the websites that offer jobs, using resources such as Career Zone that are helping me learn the skills I need in order to get back out there,” says Bastaja. “I really want to utilize what I learned in university and what I enjoy doing and want to start my career.”  But after months of looking, Bastaja has joined a growing number of youth who simply cannot find work in BC.

“The unemployment rate is a lot higher now than it was two, three years ago,” says Rune Mikkelsen, Manager of Career Zone. “The number of people coming through our door reflects the unemployment rate, and we are busier than ever. At one end of the spectrum we have the university graduate, just finished university and who cannot find a job; who cannot get their foot in the door. At the other end, we work very close with Covenant House and the shelters around here. We have a lot of at-risk youth with a lot of barriers to employment. “

Career Zone manager Rune Mikkelsen

Career Zone Manager Rune Mikkelsen works solely with unemployed BC youth. (Mike Chisholm photo)

The opportunities for great careers have never been greater, according to the government.

“We’ve already achieved great things together,” gushes Premier Christy Clark in the 24-month update of her government’s showcase BC Jobs Plan, introduced in 2011. “The progress we’ve made has had measurable and meaningful impacts throughout the province.”

More than two years into the BC Jobs Plan and statistics are failing to support Clark’s rosy projections. Statistics Canada’s December 2013 Federal Labour Market Bulletin reports that the unemployment rate for BC youth aged 15-25 stood at 13.2 per cent in November, compared to 13.1 per cent in November 2012. That is slightly higher than the national rate of 12 per cent and the highest of the four western provinces.  The BC Jobs Plan was introduced by the Clark government in September, 2011 following the recession of 2008-2009. After weathering that economic storm, the BC government introduced its major policy to stimulate the BC economy and create new and long-lasting jobs well into the future. Unlike Ontario, which had seen the recession devastate its manufacturing base, BC survived the recession relatively unscathed and saw opportunities rising in the Far East. With the economies of China and other countries expanding, these countries began exploring BC for much needed natural resources. What they saw was coal, copper and liquefied natural gas (LNG), all readily available in British Columbia.

“We are the gateway to a growing economy in Asia....” says Clark. “In LNG, BC stands on the threshold of one of the biggest economic opportunities in generations, with the potential to create 100,000 new jobs. This transformation is already underway; we’re on track to meet our target of three operational LNG facilities by 2020.”

Premier Christy Clark unveiled the BC Jobs Plan in Sept. 2011. (BC Gov't photo)

JOBS PLAN A FAILURE

More than two years after the unveiling of the Jobs Plan, the optimism of 2011 has failed to deliver many of the promised jobs.  And critics have been blunt.

“The jobs plan is a failure,” says Iglika Ivanova, Economist and Public Interest Researcher at the BC office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA).

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