Opinions differ on top priority for regional youth

District youth and stakeholders are generally headed in the same direction when it comes to creating opportunities for Northern Ontario youth, with both groups agreeing on the same three of four top objectives identified in dialogues initiated Monday by the Northern Development Council (NDC).
But the two groups differed as to their number one priority.
In two separate sessions, the youth agreed objective number 8—“Northern Ontario youth are successfully starting their own businesses”—was key, while the stakeholders, including representatives from the Rainy River Future Development Corp., clinics, farms, educational facilities, and youth centres, consented objective number 3—“Northern youth can find affordable housing and transportation, leisure and enjoy social, cultural and recreational opportunities in their communities”—was paramount.
The NDC has worked with Northern Ontario youth and developed “a series of proposed strategies to engage youth in their communities and improve education, training, and employment opportunities in Northern Ontario,” according to NDC.
Five sessions took place across Northern Ontario in Sioux Lookout, Kenora, Thunder Bay, Marathon, and Emo to gain input on the strategies supporting each of the eight objectives to reinstate the declining youth population in the area.
Each dialogue held at the Emo-La Vallee Community Centre on Monday—one for youth and one for the stakeholders (or general public)—consisted of open discussion and collectively prioritizing the objectives, which are:
•Objective 1) Northern Ontario youth are involved in leadership and development opportunities;
•Objective 2) Northern Ontario youth have a voice in community and government decisions that affect them;
•Objective 3) Northern youth can find affordable housing, transportation and recreational opportunities in their communities;
•Objective 4) Northern Ontario youth are trained to meet the current and future needs of northern employers;
•Objective 5) Young people view training and education in Northern Ontario as an attractive choice;
•Objective 6) Northern Ontario youth have access to more distance education programs in their communities;
•Objective 7) New economy jobs are created in Northern Ontario; and
•Objective 8) Northern Ontario youth are successfully starting their own businesses.
One group in the stakeholders’ afternoon session explained they supported the strategy offering to provide assistance for northern youth who travel to attend an educational or training program, which supports objective number 3.
“It’s important for them to go access the experience and bring it back,” noted group spokesperson, Emily Watson. “And we have unique local experiences available so we should bring people here as interns.”
Another group supported the strategy suggesting support incentives that encourage young people to live, work and play in Northern Ontario.
Spokesperson Kim-Jo Bliss explained employers should do what they can to ensure youth enjoy their jobs, allowing them time to take in recreational activities. The group suggested looking at job sharing to cut down on the amount of working hours for an individual.
“It wouldn’t have to be more costly for the employer,” she said.
Meanwhile, youth participant Rebecca Cornell noted she was surprised objective number 3 placed third on the priority list for the youth.
“I didn’t expect it to be so high up,” she insisted. “It’s the jobs that come first before affordable housing and leisure. You have to get the youth here first.”
“And job opportunity wise, it’s not looking real great here,” echoed Noreen Hartlin.
Cornell’s group supported several of the strategies offering assistance for northern youth to start new businesses, such as expanding the eligibility criteria to up to 34 years of age for provincial programs for young entrepreneurs, and helping young people, especially Aboriginal youth, to satisfy the financial eligibility requirements of entrepreneurship and small business programs.
Objective number 8 was placed as the fourth priority by the stakeholders. Both the youth and stakeholders ranked objective numbers 3, 7, and 8 among the top four. But they also had similar problems with objective number 7.
“It shouldn’t say ‘new economy jobs,’” noted Cornell, citing these jobs wouldn’t thrive in the district. “There are other things to focus on such as trades and agriculture.”
“That word ‘new economy’ really bugs me,” added Rainy River Federation of Agriculture president Trish Neilson. “We need to remake the industries we have here. To find different ways of looking at the sectors.”
Steve Latimer, representing NCDS Career Works and the United Native Friendship Centre, stressed there should have been a strategy included for skilled trade incentives to get youth to stay and work in the North.
Many other comments and ideas arose from the discussion.
Several youth emphasized the importance of co-op programs, internships and apprenticeships to link youth to future careers. While the stakeholders agreed, it was mentioned things need to change to make these programs easier for youth to access.
“With high school being four years instead of five, many students don’t have time for co-ops because they have other credits to take,” explained Pat Clysdale-Cornell. And it was noted the current rules for taking on apprentices are not favourable.
“I’ve been realizing there is no shortage of ideas and things to work on here. There could be five internship positions each year,” said agriculture intern Eric Busch.
Clysdale-Cornell also stressed perhaps these initiatives are not being aimed earlier enough. While “youth” in this case is refers to anyone under the age of 34, she feels high school students are not being targeted as readily as college-aged students.
“I think we’re missing the boat on high school students,” she expressed. “A lot of northern youth don’t even finish high school.”
“Decisions for the future are made when children are very young,” echoed Dr. Ingrid Krampetz of the Emo Clinic. “They have to have a positive attitude toward education and coming back to the area.”
The groups rated the strategies for each objective and were invited to fill out a survey as well
“We hope to get as many surveys as we can,” said Geoff Gillon from the RRFDC. “Everyone is invited to fill one out.”
To find out how you can provide input on proposed strategies to attract and retain youth in Northern Ontario, follow the “Youth” link at the NDC’s web site at www.ndc.gov.on.ca or call 1-705-564-7016.
The NDC then will review the information it receives from the dialogues and surveys in order to produce a final report and recommendations to be submitted to Northern Development and Mines minister Rick Bartolucci by the fall.
“The government is receptive,” added Gillon. “It’s a good time to offer input. Please get your voice in there so we can make these objectives a reality.”