When Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz commented recently that unemployed youth can advance their careers by volunteering their services instead of expecting to be paid, he inadvertently unleashed a firestorm of criticism.
At the same time, he was merely giving voice to a rather obvious fact confronting younger job-seekers.
One of the perks of the position of the Governor of the Bank of Canada, going back to at least the days of David Dodge, is that it provides a bully pulpit to weigh in on economic issues of wider public interest than monetary policy. This is appropriate given the broad context within which the Bank operates, but, as Stephen Poloz now knows, the ability to gain widespread public attention comes with a downside.
Governor Poloz was widely criticized recently for his suggestion that unemployed young people should volunteer or consider working for free in order to improve their longer term prospects in a poor job market. Outraged youth rightly noted that it is only the children of the affluent who can afford to work for free, and that unpaid internships are often highly exploitative.
Young people lag behind in Canada's economic recovery, with rates of unemployment and underemployment still significantly above pre-recession levels. The danger is that this will have a permanent scarring effect on many youth, with long-term negative implications for both our economy and our society.
It is often forgotten that Canada still has a large “echo baby boom” youth age cohort, with some 4.4 million persons age 15 to 24 now transitioning into the paid work force. They will all be needed in a few years just to replace “baby boomer” retirees, and our economic prospects will be brighter if our future work force gains relevant skills and experience today.