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Have your say: How do we equip Canadians with the skills employers need?

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Craig and Marc Kielburger founded Free The Children and Me to We. Their biweekly Brain Storm column taps experts and readers for solutions to social issues.

We've all heard the joke about the philosophy major who ends up flipping burgers, but there's a growing trend of brilliant young minds missing out on their potential.

Canada's youth unemployment remains stubbornly high at 14 per cent. But it's the underemployed – those working in positions that don't fully use their skills – who are attracting the concern of groups like Canada's Certified General Accountants, who found that one in four young university graduates have jobs that don't require their degree.

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Meanwhile, Canadian employers have long warned of a critical shortage of skilled labour, leading to a puzzling contradiction of too many unemployed workers and too many unfilled jobs.

A recent C.D. Howe Institute study found some truth behind the conventional wisdom that Canada's labour market is mismatched with the needs of the country's employers. Somehow, what we're learning to do is not what the economy needs us to know.

This month, almost one million Canadian postsecondary students could use a summer job to help pay rising education costs and are trying to stay positive amid the pessimistic headlines about their employment prospects after graduation.

If we don't necessarily want a side of Sartre with our takeout, how do we equip graduates with the skills that employers are looking for?

This week's question: How can we better match Canadians looking for work with the jobs that employers need to fill?

The experts:

Zach Dayler, national director of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations

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"Young people would benefit from a running start by gaining more experience in the labour market before they graduate. Governments can help by creating incentives for employers to hire and train students, and by removing disincentives to work while studying by fully exempting in-study income from students' loan assessments."

Philippe Bergevin, senior policy analyst at the C.D. Howe Institute

"Universities and colleges should give students more practical skills, through internships and other programs. We must also encourage more apprenticeships by eliminating provincial regulations that limit how many apprentices firms can hire, relative to the number of certified workers they employ."

Ken Georgetti, president of the Canadian Labour Congress

"We need better labour market information, with more specific information for unemployed young workers about what jobs are available, where and whether they provide decent hours of work, pay and benefits. That information would also inform a national training summit, where workers, employers and trainers can collectively plan to match training with skills needs."

Kenneth Coates, Canada Research Chair in Regional Innovation at the University of Saskatchewan

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"Young adults trying to make their way in a very tough employment market have two simple choices: They can develop a specialized skill in a high-demand area, like accounting, oil-and-gas engineering or nursing, or they can impress potential employers with their outstanding work ethic, relentless search for relevant experience and commitment to their employer."

Have your say in the comment section.

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