As a child and youth researcher, I am interested in the relationship between adolescents and work. After two years of lockdown, which kept many teenagers out of work, the current labor shortage offers many exciting job opportunities for them this summer. This can be especially welcome news for those who have a hard time finding work, such as youth and racially motivated teens.
Maryam, a Class VIII student, the daughter of a colleague of mine, shared with me her excitement about entering the workforce. She looks forward to drawing her child-care experience into her new job as a junior counselor at summer day camp:
“I feel excited but also nervous. I have never worked (in a formal job) before. But I know I am lucky to have it… I think it will be nice and interesting but also difficult and tedious. I think I’ll really like it and I know I love making my own money and meeting new friends.
Early part-time work provides many opportunities for teens: earning money, building skills and career networks, developing friendships, and fostering confidence and independence. And teens usually have positive feelings about early, part-time work.
youth worker insecure
There are also issues that arise with preparatory work, and a major one is health and safety. Young workers are particularly vulnerable because they work short-term, often lack training and safety education, and may view injury as “part of the job.”
Young workers are also in unequal relations of power with employers, both as employees and because of their young age. They lack the confidence to speak up, and employers are less likely to listen when they raise concerns. link text
Parents often feel positive about their children doing chores, which reduces some of the potential risks. Threads of Life, a Canadian charity that supports families after death at the workplace, found that two-thirds of businesses in Canada plan to hire more young workers in 2022 than in the previous two years, but Only half have a security program.
Labor laws are provincial and vary across Canada. In most places, children between the ages of 14 and 16 can work, what kind of work they can do, how long they can work, and at what time (especially during school hours). Permits are usually required for young teens who are 12 or 13 years old. Teenagers must be 17 or 18 to do more hazardous work, such as logging or mining. When a child works in the family business the rules become more lax.
Specifically, in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, children between the ages of 13 and 15 must complete a Young Worker Readiness Certificate course before they can work. Quebec is currently reevaluating its laws surrounding children’s work in the wake of increasing accidents among teens under the age of 16, and the B.C. government recently tightened its rules around early work.
teen experiences with work
My research team conducted in-depth interviews with young workers under the age of 16 at multiple jobs in Ontario and BC. We conducted over 200 surveys with grade nine students in Ontario and conducted 14 focus groups with some of these students. We explored their experiences, thoughts on early work, and how they might respond to work-related challenges.
We learn that Canadian governments rarely collect data on working children under the age of 15, but many young teens do work. They look after children, deliver papers, play baseball games, sell products, and many other things. Even a small portion works for a very long time. Others want to work but are not sure how to get a job.
We asked students how they would handle unsafe work situations. Some said that they would seek guidance from peers. Given that many teens have had little work experience over the years, this inclination suggests that teens will talk to other inexperienced peers.
Many of our participants were hesitant to say no to unsafe work and did not know that they had a right to refuse unsafe work. Most have not yet taken the Ontario Grade 10 post-secondary course that addresses workplace rights and safety.
Parents need to protect teens
It is exciting that young workers have the chance to start employment early this summer, but many may be inadequately prepared. Parents play a vital role in supporting their working children, from taking them to work to counseling them when they are at school.
Parents need to ask and be counseled about safety and fairness in their children’s new workplaces. Employers need to listen to the concerns of young workers and ensure that new workers receive adequate, frequent safety information. Young people themselves need to heed safety precautions, and speak out bravely if a situation seems unsafe or unfair.