The budget needs to consider millennials for the country’s future

This article was originally published in The Hamilton Spectator on February 10, 2016.

With a new year comes a new federal budget from the new Liberal government.

As a nonprofit dedicated to attracting, retaining and advancing young professionals in the city, Hamilton HIVE is looking at the budget with the needs of young people in mind. In a city of more than half a million residents, there is an emerging group of young professionals who are settling here. According to the 2011 census, there are about 200,000 young professionals aged 18 to 39 in Hamilton. The numbers are on the rise. A recent Hamilton Vital Signs report indicates that the growth rate of young adults (aged 20-29) in Hamilton was more than double that of the general population between 2013 and 2014.

Young professionals are students, workers and parents. Issues such as the cost of tuition, transition to the workforce, equitable wages, precarious work, affordable housing and child care are concerns that are not new, but the millennial generation bears the brunt of them. National lobby Generation Squeeze reports that Canadians in their mid-40s and under earn thousands less for full-time work than those of the same age in 1976, despite being more likely to have a post-secondary education. Tuition fees in Ontario have increased 370 per cent since 2006 while average student debt from public and private loans grew to $37,000, reports the Canadian Federation of Students. A 2012 report by the Certified General Accountants Association of Canada suggests that underemployment among youth, where a worker’s skills and labour are underutilized, warrants attention as more education does not translate into better jobs.

There are a few priorities of the newly elected government that will bode well for young professionals. These include the promise to create jobs, investment in infrastructure that contributes to job creation and helping young people to be career-ready. The focus on families and assistance to help them make ends meet will be even more important as the millennials become parents. The mandate to propel innovation and increase investment in technology, research and development will grow the economy by creating business and entrepreneurial opportunities.

Underlying the promise to create jobs is a need to facilitate the transition of students — both Canadian-born and international — to the workforce. Investment in co-op placements should encompass both STEM fields and liberal arts. Providing incentives for employers to create placements and form links with educational institutions will further cement these opportunities for young professionals. The promise of flexible working conditions can be fulfilled when employers are given incentives to rethink their HR practices. Continued funding for Innovation Centres and their youth-targeted programming is essential to build the next generation of entrepreneurs and employers. There will be a greater need for efficient transportation systems to support work commutes and reduce damage to the environment.

It has been said that this generation — the young professionals that HIVE seeks to advance — is a generation that is spending more time and money working and studying but has less. Better is always possible. We need that for the future of the country.