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Patrick Imbeau is tired of the common complaint that his generation is a bunch of spoiled whiners. He held down three jobs while working on his PhD and the debt still piled up after tuition prices doubled during the time he was at school. (Dave Chan for The Globe and Mail)
Patrick Imbeau is tired of the common complaint that his generation is a bunch of spoiled whiners. He held down three jobs while working on his PhD and the debt still piled up after tuition prices doubled during the time he was at school. (Dave Chan for The Globe and Mail)

Generation Nixed: Why Canada’s youth are losing hope for the future Add to ...

By contrast, a typical DB plan member with the same work history over the same period will have earned a pension with a value of about $1-million under the same circumstances.

The DC conversion trend isn’t new, but it means an even greater proportion of the population will have a less-valuable DC pension plan, or more likely no pension at all. That means lower savings early in life because DB pension contributions are a form of forced savings. It takes enormous discipline to voluntarily save as much.

“As a society, I think people are going to lose that period of saving early in their career,” says Mazen Shakeel, senior retirement consultant at Hewitt Associates. “And what does that translate into for them? It probably means they work longer. They’re not retiring at 55 certainly, maybe not even at 65, because they won’t be able to afford to.”

Young people are not the only ones bearing the burden, says Ian Markham, Canadian retirement innovation leader at Watson Wyatt. Their parents – his generation – are increasingly subsidizing them, keeping their children at home far longer and helping them more with tuition and housing costs.

In fact, his own children, all in their twenties, still live at home, and so do many of their friends. The additional costs are causing some parents to work longer to help support their adult children.

“It causes all sorts of other issues by the boomers continuing to work. The next generation down can’t fill the more senior positions yet because there’s a boomer sitting in the way, so you get productivity potentially lowering for the next generation down.”

The education vacuum

For now, the obstacles confronting the young have garnered little urgent attention from governments. They should, Ms. Maxwell says. “It would be very helpful if we had more national recognition that there are many people whose future is in jeopardy. And we can’t afford that in a country with a small population. We need everything these young people can offer.”

Governments should boost incentives to employers that hire young people and train them, says Nancy Schaefer, president of Youth Employment Services in Toronto.

But the onus should rest on young people, too – some of whom have unrealistic expectations of earning $60,000 right out of university, she says. They should start working early in life to gain skills, contacts and experience. They should seek out employers to ask them what skills they’re looking for.

Now, “there’s a disconnect between what young people want and need, and what is available out there.”

Canada would also do well to study systems in Germany and Switzerland, which have strong co-op and apprenticeship programs, and whose universities work more closely with employers. And employers in Canada, many of whom complain about skills shortages, should beef up on-the-job training – an area in which this country lags.

Parents, teachers and guidance counsellors should place much value on skilled trades as a secure, well-paying career option, Ms. Maxwell says.

Hartley Miller, 25, who majored in political science at the University of Guelph, wishes she’d got better advice in school about the opportunities out there – particularly in skilled trades. “I chose something I liked, but it wasn’t the most intelligent for job prospects,” says Ms. Miller, who works as a receptionist.

But a big rethink can still spark big opportunities. Stephanie Wilson, 25, had hoped to be a lawyer or veterinarian one day. She stumbled into engineering when a UBC program opened up in her hometown in the Okanagan area of British Columbia.

She was one of few females to graduate in mechanical engineering in May, 2010. She landed a job at engineering firm Hatch Ltd. in the very same month. It wasn’t the career path she’d dreamed of as a girl, but she loves it.

“I love the diversity. No day is the same as the day before. And there’s really opportunities to go everywhere.”

Editor's note: Acadia University is in Wolfville, N.S., not Halifax. Incorrect information appeared in an earlier online version of this story.

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