Canadian schools need to do more to teach the knowledge and skills required to plot a career path and land a job after graduation. That was one of the messages University of Alberta professor and work-integrated learning advocate Dr. Adetola Adesida shared at a recent Future Skills Centre webinar, Bridging the school-to-work transition for youth.
Dr. Adesida is the co-director of the Experiential Learning in Innovation, Technology, and Entrepreneurship (ELITE) Program for Black Youth, and Director of Orthopedic Basic Science Research in the U of A’s Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry.
Typically, students don’t start thinking about landing a job until late in the course of their high school or post-secondary education, an approach Dr. Adesida believes is “failing our youth” as they attempt to launch careers upon graduation.
“You learn all the things you need to learn at school, and then it’s like ‘You’re now learning how to apply for a job,’” Dr. Adesida said. “I think that’s wrong. Learning about a job should be part of education in school. That needs to be integrated into that. Entrepreneurship needs to be integrated into the school system. We need to start thinking about things in reverse order, so to speak, so that when (students) get to that stage in their lives, they’re ready. They know what the barriers are, what the challenges are, and they know how to navigate those pathways so they can get and do the things they need to do.”
Employer attitudes towards younger workers, and last-in, first-out policies that leave many young workers vulnerable to job cuts are among the leading barriers new graduates face when attempting to enter the workforce. Having already interrupted learning for many students, the COVID-19 pandemic has also led to severe economic consequences that have had an outsized impact on young people.
Research cited in the webinar indicated that graduates who endure prolonged school-to-work transitions can suffer long-term negative effects around employment status and earnings.
Fellow panelist Akosua Alagaratnam, Executive Director of First Work, said she agreed with Dr. Adesida’s view that more needs to be done to prepare students for work while they are still in school. However, Alagaratnam also said community service providers have a role to play in this learning and need to work together with education systems to achieve effective delivery.
“There is a need for more integration with the community in terms of ensuring that you’re supporting and providing those wraparound supports for the whole person, and not just waiting for them to go out and search for it,” Alagaratnam said.
Dr. Adesida, who said he is the only Black professor in surgery in his faculty, noted the importance of diversity among educators, given its impact on students from different cultural backgrounds.
“Our schools need to be really diverse in their representation, whether it’s in the STEM area, or whether it’s in the arts,” Dr. Adesida said. When youth see people who look like them in those positions, it’s really easy for them to say ‘I can be that.’ I think we can improve on that. That needs to be dealt with.”
Learn more in the FSC’s learning bulletin Bridging the school-to-work transition for youth: Insights and learnings.