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Doing the Work: Calgary Youth Employment Centre

Looking for work during a pandemic is difficult, and 18-year-old Peter admits he’s a procrastinator. The recent high school graduate is just not sure what he wants to do next, and confesses that procrastinating seems to be an easier avenue than figuring it all out. 

“At first when I graduated high school I didn’t know what I was going to do and was thinking about nursing,” Peter says. “I started to upgrade my Chemistry but that was misguided. I realize now that I think I want to do accounting. My sister is an accountant and it looks like a good start…it seems like a solid foundation.”

Peter says he feels fortunate to have found a job at a fast food restaurant, but with the COVID-19 pandemic, hours and shifts have been reduced to an extent where he’s decided he needs a second job.

Peter was nudged into looking into the services of The City of Calgary’s Youth Employment Centre (YEC) by his sister after she was approached by Eric, a youth employment counsellor, in her northwest community. Eric and other counsellors work with youth like Peter to assist them in building the skills necessary to find employment and link them with potential job opportunities.

Youth unemployment is usually double that of the adult population and sat at a troubling 21.8 per cent in the Calgary region as of October 2020. Pre-COVID, youth would come to the downtown YEC location to receive support. But with the pandemic, youth employment counsellors had to adjust their approach to ensure the safety of citizens and the YEC team while continuing to maintain operations to support youth in this very challenging time. Instead of youth visiting the YEC, compassionate counsellors started meeting youth literally on the streets of their communities and introducing them to the services available.  

Using census data and analysis, the centre also performed outreach to youth like Peter, in specific communities where they found there were higher incidences of disengagement from employment, education or training.

“We were looking to connect with a group of youth that we refer to as ‘opportunity youth’,” says Eric.  “[These youth] were identified because they were not in school, not employed and not in some sort of training. They are more at risk than their peers as they weren’t necessarily getting access to the information that other youth might get. These youth tend to be harder to reach, it takes more time and maybe a bit more innovation, but we do this because we care.”

“We reevaluated things during COVID,” continues Eric. “We decided that it would be best to go and meet with those youth…right within their community; when restrictions were somewhat lifted, we were able to meet individually in outdoor spaces.”

During the changing health guidelines and restrictions over the past year, the team began to rely more heavily on electronic and social media platforms to communicate with youth and to build relationships. Though Eric says doing employability assessments and questionnaires over text and email has been a bit challenging, Peter thought that the process was simple and friendly. 

“You are now having to do that over email or text and still trying to keep questions clear and concise while trying to be cool and relatable,” laughs Eric. “But to be able to show that we have a team on board that is willing to use FaceTime or Teams or WhatsApp to connect…I think it has been fantastic and I am sure that we’ll be keeping some of these tools. [It is challenging] not being able to meet a person face-to-face at times, yet still build a rapport, still build trust in talking about their barriers to employment, their goals, and identifying a plan.”

Peter says he is very appreciative of the services offered through the YEC. “My resume is pretty lack lustre and it wasn’t really up to date,” admits Peter. “I looked at the way Eric modified it made me realize I need to be more of an adult about these things and come across more professional and not be lazy when I try to express myself.”

After completing an employability assessment with Eric to help determine Peter’s interests and experience, Peter was surprised at how quickly he was provided a list of potential employers to apply to.

“A big thing in applying for a job – you can just send out everywhere – but, as I like to procrastinate, it was nice to get a list from Eric of places that were actually hiring,” says Peter.

Where do these potential employers come from? Employers that once heavily relied on recruitment assistance from the YEC are now receiving hundreds of job applications from a very deep talent pool due to the pandemic, and now many youth find themselves competing with unemployed adults.

“We have had to become more creative in how we entice employers to partner with us,” says Jennifer, a community liaison for the YEC. “We offer prescreening to streamline the process and to save time. We take the time to understand the culture of our employers so our counsellors are able to put forward ideal candidates.”

Typically, the YEC hosts a large hiring fair each March with over 90 employers and youth attendance numbers around 5,000. Recognizing the significant challenges for youth to secure work, a smaller virtual hiring event was organized this year with the aim to fill 140 positions. Youth were able to interview with employers at the event, in real time.

“Connecting with employers and hooking me up to an information fair about employment opportunities was great,” says Peter. “After talking to one company, I was really surprised at how interested I was in working there and wouldn’t have thought of applying there on my own. Through the Youth Employment Centre, my resume gets flagged, which it probably wouldn’t have been if I had just happened to apply on my own. Getting that interview is so crucial.”

Did you know?

  • The Youth Employment Centre (YEC) is open year round and offers free employment and career services to all youth ages 15-24.
  • YEC partners with hundreds of local employers to support their hiring needs and to connect youth with a variety of job opportunities.
  • To get connected to YEC visit
October 2020  Total Calgary youth employment: 95,600.  Calgary youth unemployment rate: 21.8%.

Categories: Employment, Youth