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This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab

One upside of the controversy around remarks made late last year by Stephen Poloz about jobless youth is the spotlight shone on youth employment – or lack of – in Canada.

Finally.

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The Bank of Canada Governor came under fire for his much publicized advice to unemployed and underemployed youth to work for free in order to bolster their résumés and gain valuable experience. In hindsight, Mr. Poloz may well agree that his comments were ill-advised, but let's not let the controversy overshadow opportunity here. At least the issue gained greater prominence, and for that we can be thankful, because the challenges facing youth just beginning their careers in Canada and across the Western world are real, and so is the pain.

First some facts:

  • The term “youth” in employment studies and statistics refers to those aged 15 to 24.
  • The unemployment rate in Canada for that group has been hovering around 13 per cent since the world’s economic meltdown in 2008.
  • This number doesn’t count underemployed youth, which make up another estimated 27 per cent. These are the people who take contingency jobs to earn something of a living while searching for their career work.

Now some would say that youth unemployment is a natural growing pain for young workers who are looking to cut their career teeth. This position, however, does not appreciate the long-term negative consequences of the situation they face, which extends far beyond immediate pain. The lasting impacts are known as employment scarring and they take the form of a higher likelihood for future underemployment and significantly reduced lifetime earnings compared to more fortunate others who found jobs more quickly.

The reality is a sad one; the longer workers are not put to their productive best, the harder it becomes to ever be, In this way, careers – that is, people – are scarred. So, while it may theoretically feel like young people have the time, and therefore the resilience, to bounce back from early-careers hurdles, the system of work is sadly proving otherwise.

So what can be done for this large group of young workers, truly needing a strategy for their nest steps? Or, put another way, what can you do if you think you may be headed down this path?

First, don't panic or despair. When facing a career low point, the overwhelming temptation is to frantically look in all directions for a way out and a paycheque. Certainly, this inner fire is a good thing. However, the shotgun approach to finding a job is often note the best tactic.

Instead, focus. Get the clarity you need by asking these questions? What are you truly good at, and what areas should you avoid? Do you like to sell, or rather, to persuade? Can you locate a good answer for just about every question? Are you analytic by nature and training? Do you naturally look for ways to improve processes and outcomes? Do you like helping people? Do you always see the big picture, or are you a wizard at details?

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Professional assets are important to note; because in plain language, the fundamental pursuit of a promising career is to become known for getting really good at something that is fulfilling to you and has increasing value for others. So what can you become really good at, and where are you opportunities to demonstrate these qualities?

Any workplace is a huge opportunity to become known for traits, characteristics and actions that are generally valued in many other workplaces. It doesn't matter if you are in a contingency job or volunteering for an organization. Take it seriously. Deliberately develop your main attributes, become known for them and discuss your career development with others.

Then keep growing through a deliberate strategy known as compounding actions: do something that is in line with your career ideas and tells a story. The act can be almost anything, as long as it makes sense to your career direction and gives you something meaningful to tell someone else (start a blog, volunteer in a significant way, plan an event). Once this first act is done, you use the story to accomplish an even bigger act, thus producing a bigger story and further compound your actions. And so on.

Don't allow unemployment wounds to leave a scar – plan, get good, get known, tell others and keep growing.

Tyler Waye (@TylerWaye) is a work force strategist, president of IN.FORM and author of the book, I Went to School that Long for This?!

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