Improving the School-to-Work Transitions of Youth in Canada: A Scoping Review

Improving youth school-to-work (STW) transitions is an important, though challenging, way of reducing high unemployment, underemployment and precarious employment among youth. This report by Donnalee Bell, Krista Benes and Dave Redekop of Life-Role Development Group Ltd. identifies the causes of poor STW transitions in Canada and suggests solutions to the problem.

The underlying evidence for the report was gathered from:

  • An advisory committee (AC) of 12 key stakeholders in the area of STW transition, to advise on the development of the project, key informant contacts, and research scope, hypotheses and sources; the stakeholders represented industry (Canadian Chamber of Commerce, a national bank, the Canadian office of an international mining company) and the non-profit sector (a human resources sector council, a local education-industry council, an organization that helps other non-profits raise funds, a research organization, an organization that promotes dialogue, the Canadian Education and Research Institute for Counselling (CERIC), a university, and an organization that funds innovative approaches to sustainability, equity, and creativity in such areas as inclusive local economics and the environment).
  • A literature review of over 80 sources to explore employer-education research related to youth, to map the literature, and to identify key concepts, best practices, research gaps, and types and sources of evidence.
  • A survey of 141 key STW transition stakeholders across Canada, to identify the main factors contributing to poor STW transitions of Canadian youth, champions working in the field, promising practices, and gaps in resources, tools, programs and policy.
  • Interviews with 11 key informants identified by the AC, survey respondents, and the Canadian Career Development Foundation, to serve as a final check on the findings of the other research conducted for this study and to gather more input on the systemic, implementation and execution barriers to effective STW transitions.

The authors found that no province in Canada has successfully implemented a comprehensive STW transition strategy for youth. The research further suggests that the problem of poor STW transitions is a complex and systemic one that cannot be addressed simply by a specific program, more robust services for particular target youth populations, or stronger engagement of specific stakeholder groups. Indeed, the researchers identified multiple causes of poor youth STW transitions, including the following:

  • Insufficient preparation of youth for the workplace;
  • Insufficient employer participation in identifying and developing the needed skills in concert with schools, and ineffective onboarding and training of new recruits for financial expediency reasons; and
  • Inconsistent and limited delivery of the large number of policies, programs and resources directed at the issue, often owing to, for example, a lack of new funding, difficult funding application processes, limited target audience, inadequately trained educators, and a lack of awareness of the programs due to insufficient information or effort to increase access to the information.

To address the problem of poor school-to-work transition, the authors suggested the following actions based on their research:

  • In consultation with key stakeholders — educators, employers, practitioners, parents and youth — create an overarching framework that delineates program funding, development, and delivery roles, effective policies, and implementation requirements;
  • Bring career education into the curriculum far earlier and treat it as a central part of the curriculum and not as an “add-on”;
  • Conduct earlier and better assessments to identify youth client support needs and interventions that have proactive evidence-based supports for those who require them;
  • Develop an awareness campaign focused on the cost of poor STW transitions;
  • Establish a labour market information system that promotes the collection and sharing of timely and accurate data and tools;
  • Conduct research to identify promising effective and scalable practices, including demand/employer-led strategies, workforce development approaches, education-industry partnerships, local systems, and other social innovation methods;
  • Create an evaluation culture among STW program practitioners and other STW stakeholders that promotes solid and sustainable implementation strategies and encourages stakeholders to play their parts well and adjust to changing needs and system changes;
  • Examine how funding processes and procedures affect implementation; and
  • Identify and fund intermediaries to serve as conveners, brokers and assistants to schools and employers engaged in building pathways to the labour market.

This report would be of interest to practitioners and policy makers interested in designing and delivering more effective programs and policies to support school-to-work transitions for youth, as well employers wishing to improve transitions into their workplace.