What gives? It should be a match made in digital heaven.
When it comes to job growth, startup technology companies are responsible for a disproportionally large number of new jobs. The biggest challenge for young tech firms: finding the talent they need.
We are the most “tech-savvy” generation the country has ever seen. At the same time, young people need jobs. Youth unemployment (ages 16 to 24) continues to hover around 14 per cent, well above the average for working-aged Canadians.
To find out why youth aren’t landing in the tech sector, we conducted a study, funded by Employment Ontario, which surveyed the founders of Ontario technology-based startups, high school guidance counselors, and high school and post-secondary students. The results of this study begin to paint a picture of why more people my age aren’t landing jobs in tech.
You can review the study findings and check out the full report and methodology here. But here are the Coles notes.
First, findings show a staggeringly low interest in mathematics and computer science among high school students planning to enter post-secondary studies (only 5%). When we expand this to include those interested in engineering or architectural studies, the number increases to 25%. The total number of female students interested remains startlingly low (7%).
Second, this disconnect is in part because careers in the field of technology are relatively hidden. Unlike more traditional jobs such as a doctor, teacher, lawyer or postal worker, there is an awareness gap about what tech careers are available and how to pursue them.
Typically, students who don’t personally know someone in the technology field have no familiarity with what someone in that line of work does on a day-to-day basis. Unsurprisingly, most 16 to 24 years olds also lack the knowledge, experience and networks to launch a career as an entrepreneur or to land a position with a new technology startup.
Third, the study found that over one-third of students currently pursuing engineering, technology and math (ETM) studies in university or college said they had used their technology skills to earn money through part-time work. There were also high levels of support for providing work experiences in ETM for high school students as a way to build interest and experience.
Among those high school students who said they were planning to study ETM in post-secondary school, the majority said they are learning how math or science can be highly creative or used to build things. Providing start-up ‘career days’ and work experience opportunities will give high school students the chance to see what a career in tech would look like.
The problem is, founders of tech startups typically want to hire employees who are ready to work on day one. They don’t have time to train new staff. Heather Payne, the CEO of HackerYou and founder of Ladies Learning Code, has said that tech company founders “do not have time to babysit.” She explained that incentives for hiring co-op students that are looking for work experience must be “something more or different” in order to have an effect.
Payne wasn’t the only one who felt that something more needs to be done. At a forum in Toronto at the beginning of February, Matthew Saunders of the Ryerson Digital Media Zone suggested government policy ought to adapt to follow we follow the start-up model and experiment with a number of concepts/iterations until we find what works to help engage 16 to 24 year olds in the startup tech-track.
It is clear that there is more to be done. Study recommendations target three key areas: 1) enabling more high school students to choose ETM studies, 2) increasing familiarity with the role and job tasks of start-up entrepreneurs, and 3) assisting start-ups to hire students.
The final area of recommendations is targeted at engaging and assisting current start-up founders to hire students with more “start-up-friendly” funding applications and offering “crash-courses” in implementing a human resources strategy, providing an opportunity to share best practices in hiring, training, and retaining new employees.
The bottom line: while start-up tech jobs might not be the only fix for youth unemployment, they can definitely be part of the solution. But we have a lot of work to do to bridge the awareness gap about career opportunities in the start-up tech sector.
So, like a pack of angry birds, let’s act to turn our youth loose on the fast growing tech sector. It will benefit us and our economy for generations to come.
Jaime Morrison is a Market Research Analyst at yconic specializing in Canadian youth research trends. She helps manage Uthink, Canada’s largest teen and young adult market research community and is a regular blog contributor for the Huffington Post.