First Work’s National Youth Employment Strategy

Canadian workforce development policy must change to meet the challenge and opportunity presented by the Future of Work.

In Canada, youth employment rates are double that of the general population. For August 2023, youth unemployment was 11.3%, in comparison to 5.5% for the national rate.

There is a persistent skills mismatch, youth are facing career scarring, labour mobility trends continue to pressure major urban areas, and lack of cohesive jurisdictional policy will only contribute to economic disruption as Canada continues to grow.

To flourish in the Future of Work, Canada must be intentional in workforce development for all youth.

By serving those furthest from employment – we better support all jobseekers to realize the potential they and Canada offer.

It must start with a new, comprehensive new National Youth Employment Strategy.

First Work identified the need for a comprehensive National Youth Employment Strategy in our August 2023 submission for the Federal Pre-Budget Consultation. First Work has developed a proposal for a new National Youth Employment Strategy (NYES). First Work’s Network of over 100 Employment Service Provider (ESP) agencies have tangible solutions for persistent workforce development issues occurring in regional economies.
Read First Work’s 2024 Pre-Budget Recommendations. Read the National Youth Employment Strategy Brief. Downlaod the First Work Network’s recommendations.
Share First Work’s Recommendations. Read First Work’s proposal for a National Youth Employment Strategy. Jump to a Pillar:
1. All Youth
2. Employment & Social Services Sector
3. Employers and the Labour Market


The Employment and Social Services sector offers tangible solutions for persistent workforce development issues occurring in regional economies. The following policy recommendations and considerations can be addressed individually; however, a comprehensive National Youth Employment Strategy – one that recognizes the importance of and brings to the policy-development tables the expertise of community-based employment service providers – align with similar end-goals.

Read the First Work Network’s recommendations to improve Canadian workforce development.

The following recommendations have been developed in collaboration with First Work’s Network of over 100 employment service agencies across Ontario. These recommendations align within the three identified Pillars of Focus for First Work’s proposed National Youth Employment Strategy.

Pillar #1 – All Youth

A sustainable, future of work for Canada is one that meets the needs of all youth – particularly those from equity-seeking groups – providing access to job exploration and wraparound supports required for career success.

The Federal Government must ensure all youth – irrespective of status – can access the transformative ESP supports which benefit the jobseeker, their community, and Canada’s economic growth.


  • Canada must ensure that Labour Market Agreements Development Agreements (LMDA) stipulate all youth (under age 30) – irrespective of status – can access the full suite of employment services available to Canadian-born counterparts.

  • Canada must clarify policy to ensure new youth arrivals in Canada – including international students – are able to fully access supports available by providing 900-series SINs to all Newcomer Youth, thereby mitigating jurisdictional gaps in service provision.

  • Canada must ensure its jurisdictional Employment Services recognize and cater to the unique needs of youth by mandating youth-specific employment support in TPAs.

  • The Federal Government should return Canada Summer Jobs programming to its enhanced, COVID-era flexibility, including enhanced funding, timelines, and eligibility.

Pillar #2 – Employment and Social Services Sector

A robust social services sector, one which enables individual and community prosperity through employment supports servicing both the jobseeker and the employer, is necessary to ensure workforce development policy is nimble and attune to the needs of regional economies.

Canada must foster the creation of meaningful partnerships between employment services and educational institutions for effective career exploration and guidance.

ESPs must be engaged and consulted in the policy tables developing workforce strategies for the long-term health of both national and regional economies.


  • Canada should ensure ESPs – who have rapid, community-based insights into the health of local economies – are engaged in policy development tables accordingly.

  • Successful long-term workforce development and economic policy should support the local development of community services and educational institutions to better support the school-to-work transition.

  • Canada should offer enhanced operational funding commitments for community support agencies – who are largely charity/NFPs – to ensure workforce development policy is inclusive, wholistic, and long-term in its success.

  • Programming eligibility should recognize rural and remote economies have lower capacity, requiring equity in access.

  • Increased agency autonomy – allowing purchase and provision of gas cards, for example – to support jobseekers impacted by rising cost-of-living and transportation increases is essential in rural and remote regions, particularly in areas without public transit systems; however, current agreements constrain spending and do not reflect the significant impact on clients.

  • Existing YESS guidelines require clearer framing as well as structure and timelines around the call for proposals. Ongoing extension of contracts – without indication of future funding-rounds – can inhibit the continuation of successful programming as ESPs are unable to plan effectively.

Pillar #3 – Employers and the Labour Market

Data-informed strategies and strategic partnerships with stakeholders – which ensure wraparound supports for both jobseekers and employers – will facilitate more seamless Youth workforce entry and critical long-term labour market planning.

Canada must ensure provincial services meet the needs of the SMEs who comprise most workforce-hiring by equipping the local ESPs who support these economic drivers.


  • Canada should increase flexibility on Federally-supported jurisdictional programs – like the Canada Summer Jobs and Canada-Ontario Job Grant programs – as these offerings enable more employers to access untapped streams of workers.

  • Amongst ongoing changes to Ontario’s ES landscape, wage-subsidies cannot be the end-solution for a rapidly deskilling labour force. Canada must ensure community ES providers are eligible for funding streams to address employers’ need to upskill employees or train new hires, like with Canada-Ontario Job Grant which is slated to be discontinued in fiscal ’24.

  • The Federal government must reduce bureaucratic administrative complexities which often disincentivize small employers from participating in talent building programs where resources are often diverted from actual service delivery.

    • Employer-vetting processes – in partnership with social service providers – should not be so cumbersome that the small and medium sized-enterprises (SMEs) who comprise 98% of hiring are unable to access Federally-provisioned programming.

  • Canada should ensure a wholistic stakeholder consultation approach – including both service providers and employers – for workforce development which meets the needs of local economies and communities.