Op-ed: Why part of the answer to the labour shortage can be found in our own backyard

youth labour

Ottawa stands at a crossroads, where the decisions we make today will shape our future. In these turbulent times, the prevailing response centres around attracting top talent, a crucial endeavour for the city’s growth. However, there’s an equally promising strategy that is often overlooked: investing in youth and identifying local talent. 

While much emphasis is placed on the challenges faced by Ottawa’s tech sector in the recruitment and retention of talent, it’s crucial to acknowledge that these challenges extend beyond the boundaries of the tech industry. Ottawa boasts a rich tapestry of industries and sectors, each contributing to our city’s economic and social fabric. Our approach must extend beyond attracting top talent for key positions; we must also uncover the latent potential within our own community. 

Central to this strategy is the identification and nurturing of local talent, facilitated by the collective wisdom of Ottawa’s visionaries and innovative companies. This approach not only introduces fresh perspectives, but propels the city forward. By fostering talent within our borders, Ottawa not only strengthens its internal capabilities, but also establishes itself as an enticing hub for new talent eager to join our vibrant community.

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Recent studies emphasize the stark challenges faced by youth. A study by the Canadian Council for Youth Prosperity reveals that young Canadians, particularly those from low-income or marginalized communities, grapple with barriers such as limited access to technology, professional networks and career development opportunities. Additionally, a report from the Canadian Youth Business Foundation shows that the pandemic intensified job scarcity, increased competition for employment and negatively impacted the mental health of young people. Investing and believing in the power of our youth population can dramatically impact these circumstances.

Rather than fixating on attracting and retaining talent, we should recognize the worth of nurturing local talent, often found in unexpected places. This approach complements and strengthens the pursuit of drawing new talent to our city. Highly creative and successful individuals are drawn to cities where they can cultivate their own development, collaborate with others and participate in a community that fosters innovation and progress. Inspiration often stems from those who have initiated their own businesses, taken a chance to pursue new ventures or wholeheartedly followed their passions. Many of these remarkable people have surmounted unique barriers and challenges. It is precisely these visionaries and innovative companies in Ottawa that can ignite a fresh approach, facilitating the identification and cultivation of the city’s untapped potential.

As executive director of Youth Ottawa, I’ve witnessed a remarkable transformation that occurs, not just in the lives of one or two inspired individuals who discover their passions and embark on new ventures, but also when entire communities embrace this phenomenon. This contagious spirit extends its influence to parents, teachers, volunteers and politicians. The self-sustaining and highly positive pro-social activity that emerges through these connections is a potent force driving change and progress. This synergy is further amplified when people are empowered with self-determination and autonomy, acting as rocket fuel for this phenomenon. 

Young individuals, in particular, flourish when they are empowered to chart their own course and embrace valuable lessons from their missteps. These principles are sometimes challenging for our educational institutions to fully incorporate. In a society that nurtures and steers courage, we unlock a wellspring of knowledge, diverse viewpoints and limitless inspiration 

My personal journey, marked by significant hurdles, stands as a testament to the transformative power of self-determination and resilience. Diagnosed with a learning disability at the age of seven, I could have easily been consigned to a predetermined path of low expectations and missed opportunities. However, it was the remarkable openness of certain teachers who focused on my strengths, coupled with the unwavering advocacy of my parents who recognized unique talents in me, that played a pivotal role in keeping me on the path to success. 

I frequently reflect on students who lack such advocates. Without support and flexibility, these students may be more inclined to accept limitations imposed upon them by external forces. Embracing local resources is essential for igniting the spark within the young people of our city, unlocking their true potential and, in turn, unlocking the city’s true potential.

Investing in our local youth extends beyond nurturing future tech giants; it’s a strategy that can foster success stories with broader societal benefits. Comparable to the Ottawa Senators’ reputation for cultivating homegrown talent, this approach isn’t a quick fix; it’s a journey that demands collective effort, commitment and visionary leadership. Ottawa has the potential to evolve into a city that not only welcomes external talent, but also cultivates and nurtures its homegrown champions. 

Together, we can redefine the narrative and ensure that investing in our youth becomes a shared commitment, one that draws not only from visionary companies within our city, but also from the entrepreneurs who establish them, guiding us toward a brighter future for all of Ottawa.

Jesse Card is executive director of Youth Ottawa.

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