Innovative solutions to tackling youth unemployment in Ottawa

Ottawa Community Foundation
Marco Pagani, CEO & President, Ottawa Community Foundation and Ian Bingeman, Executive Director, Youth Ottawa.

When it comes to tackling youth unemployment, a little bit of creative thinking and some business sense can go a long way.

For the past two years the New Leaf Community Challenge, organized by the Ottawa Community Foundation, has encouraged local organizations to come up with innovative ways to find young people meaningful employment. The most promising contender is awarded a $125,000 grant.

Youth Ottawa and the Social Planning Council, two local not-for-profits that offer skills training to disadvantaged youth, stepped up to the challenge in 2017. Together, they proposed using the grant to expand their existing videography program, Youth Active Media, into a social enterprise.

“The plan we put forth went out in two stages,” says Ian Bingeman, Executive Director of Youth Ottawa. “One was to go out and run a training program in how to create your own videos … The other was growing a social enterprise where we can hire youth from that training program and get them going and making videos for clients.”

Since winning the grant, 54 youth have graduated from the training program and 19 went on to work for Hot Shoe Productions – the fully operational video production service supported by both organizations.

“We’ve done video products for Shopify, for RBC and the Centre for Social Enterprise Development, and for local charities” says Bingeman. “It’s not just finding employment opportunities for youth. It’s also telling the story to the rest of the community that there’s a huge value added when you involve youth in your business.”

Employing youth

Although some organizations have found success in getting youth into workplaces across the city, the number of unemployed youth in Ottawa is still high. In 2017, Ottawa’s youth unemployment rate was 13.1 per cent.

unemployment infographic

There’s no standard blueprint for businesses trying to eliminate youth unemployment, says Marco Pagani, President and CEO of the Ottawa Community Foundation, but cross-sector partnerships between public, private and philanthropic sectors are a great way to work towards lasting change.

The Ottawa Community Foundation works to bring local organizations together to find non-traditional solutions to some of the city’s most pressing issues and provides funding opportunities to make it all happen.

In the case of youth unemployment, Hot Shoe Productions is just one example of how these cross-sector partnerships can create positive, systemic and sustainable change.

“There’s no reason why those video services couldn’t be purchased by for-profit businesses,” says Pagani. “When we talk about social enterprise ... It should mean charities can create and deliver products and services that are ready for prime-time, can be consumed by clients, regardless of the sector you happen to be in. Those are very meaningful contributions.”

2018 finalists

The New Leaf Community Challenge is back again with a new cohort of finalists who have devised their own solutions to youth unemployment:

• The Ottawa Community Housing Foundation, Youth Futures and Global Vision have proposed launching Youth+, an initiative that will help youth get jobs in fast-growing industries through a number of support programs;

• Relay Education’s initiative, Green Collar Careers, aims to assist youth in exploring environmentally-oriented career paths through skills development training and connecting them with employers in the industry; and

• The Rideau-Rockcliffe Community Resource Centre’s GeneratioNeXt Ward 13 is an employment and entrepreneurship program that plans to connect youth with potential employers and guide those who want to run their own business.

“The public, private and philanthropic partnerships are getting much more interesting,” says Pagani. “We find that this kind of process, this out-of-the-box Dragons Den-light approach, has yielded a lot of good things, including a sector that’s much more ready and the three finalists are certainly a reflection of that.”