Our youth are our future. However, with growing worker and skills shortages in Manitoba, giving young people a reason to stay in the province has become the next challenge for both business and government.
If we, as a city, are serious about keeping our youth, we must engage them in a conversation about what they want and give them a voice.
In 2007, a survey of business executives identified a worker shortage as the number one issue facing business. And again in 2012, the BOLD Winnipeg Business Leaders Survey cited labour availability and skills shortages as their top concern.
The answer to this issue lies with our young people. But what will it take to make youth want to stay in Winnipeg? That’s simple: just ask them.
In March 2012, the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce invited local high schools to take part in a day-long discussion. Miles Macdonell Collegiate teacher Kara Wickstrom-Street called it an “exciting opportunity” for her class. Her students, along with almost 120 other high school students, took part in the discussion and tackled the question of how to make Manitoba a cool place to live. The following year, the class of 2012-2013 added their voice.
The students weren’t shy about sharing their ideas. Afterward, the Chamber arranged for them to speak with the mayor, the NDP caucus, CJOB listeners and Chamber members about their ideas.
The mayor even took one of their suggestions to heart after they suggested creating a youth advisory council to provide student input on issues related to civic politics.
Green issues, such as transportation, were definitely top of mind. The students talked about Winnipeg being a city that “mobilizes” its youth. They proposed a city-wide rent-and-return bike program, based on a European model. They also wanted safer bike lanes – entirely separate paths or curbed and divided stretches of road. More buses, better routes and more frequent arrivals were also discussed. They suggested a reduced bus fare to create a rider culture that would last beyond high school.
They also wanted to live in a city that provided opportunities for active teens. This included big regional recreation centres, where they could meet other young people from around the city. It also included under-18 dance halls, teen clubs and comedy-type clubs where there’d be an open mike to perform. They also talked of a Six Flags theme park, an indoor water park, an extreme sports park and bigger malls, like West Edmonton Mall.
They were also concerned about downtown and proposed increased safety through numbers – more police, cadets and Downtown Watch; more residents; more unique retail; and more places for street people to go. They got creative and suggested setting up teepees around Thunderbird House for the homeless or, at the very least, more shelters. To attract more people downtown, they questioned why there couldn’t be an urban beach.
For Portage and Main, they too had a vision – open up the street-level intersection and create a Winnipeg version of Time Square.
They also thought about creating a greater awareness of the careers that might keep them in Winnipeg. They suggested a mandatory internship program and an event where they could have a series of 15-minute meetings with employers.
The Chamber hopes to open their eyes to new career possibilities by organizing behind-the-scene tours this academic year of places such as the Manitoba Museum and AssentWorks, a fabrication and prototype workshop.
We need to do all we can to encourage young people to stay and build on what we have, to become a youth-friendly community.
Dave Angus is the president and CEO of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce.