Many seasonal businesses are struggling to find enough workers again this summer.
As a child and youth studies researcher, I’m interested in the relationship between teenagers and work. After two years of lockdowns that kept many teens from working, the current labour shortage offers many exciting job opportunities for them this summer. This may be especially welcome news for those who have had a harder time finding work, such as younger and racialized teens.
Grade eight student Miriam, the daughter of one of my colleagues, shared her excitement with me about entering the workforce. She is keen to draw on her babysitting experience in her new job as a junior counsellor at a summer day camp:
“I feel excited but also nervous. I’ve never worked (in a formal job) before. But I know I’m lucky to get it… I think it will be cool and interesting but also hard and tiring. I think I’ll really like it and I know I’ll like making my own money and meeting new friends.”
Early part-time work offers many opportunities for teens: earning money, building skills and career networks, developing friendships and fostering confidence and independence. And teens themselves generally have positive feelings about early, part-time work.
Young workers are vulnerable
There are also issues that arise with early work, and a key one is health and safety. Young workers are particularly vulnerable because they tend to do short-term work, often lack training and safety education, and may see injury as just “part of the job.”
Young workers are also in unequal relationships 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 to them when they raise concerns.link text
Part-time work offers opportunities for teens to earn money, build skills and career networks, develop friendships and foster confidence and independence.
Parents often feel positively about their children working, leading to some downplaying potential risks. Threads of Life, a Canadian charity that supports families after a workplace fatality, found that two-thirds of businesses in Canada plan to hire more young workers in 2022 than they have in the past two years, but only half have a safety program.
Labour laws are provincial and vary across Canada. In most places, children between 14 and 16 can work, with limitations on what kinds of work they can do, how long they can work and at what times (especially during school hours). Usually for young teens who are 12 or 13, a permit is needed. Teens must be 17 or 18 to do more dangerous work, such as logging or mining. Rules tend to be more lax when a child works in a family business.
Notably, in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, children between 13 and 15 must complete a Young Worker Readiness Certificate Course before working. Québec is currently re-evaluating its laws around children’s work in the face of rising accidents among teens under 16, and the B.C. government recently toughened up their rules around early work.
Teens’ experiences with work
My research team conducted in-depth interviews with young workers under 16 in a range of jobs in Ontario and B.C. We also conducted over 200 surveys with grade nine students in Ontario and held 14 focus groups with some of these students. We sought their experiences, thoughts on early work and how they might respond to work-related challenges.
We learned that, while Canadian governments rarely collect data on working children under 15, many young teens work. They babysit, deliver papers, ump baseball games, sell products and do many other jobs. A small portion even work very long hours. Others want to work, but are unsure how to find a job.
Many young teens work by babysitting, delivering papers, umpiring baseball games and more.
We asked the students about how they would handle unsafe work conditions. Some said they would ask peers for guidance. Given that many teens have had little work experience over the last few years, this inclination suggests that teens will be talking to other inexperienced peers.
A number of our participants were also reluctant to say no to unsafe work and did not know they have the right to refuse unsafe work. Most had not yet taken the Ontario grade 10 secondary course that addresses workplace rights and safety.
Parents need to protect teens
It is exciting that young workers have the chance to start early employment this summer, but many may be insufficiently prepared. Parents play an important role in supporting their working children, from taking them to work to counselling them when work intrudes on school.
Parents need to ask and advise about safety and fairness in their children’s new workplaces. Employers need to listen to young workers’ concerns and ensure that new workers receive sufficient, repeated safety information. Young people themselves need to pay attention to safety precautions, and bravely speak up if a situation feels unsafe or unfair.
Rebecca Raby has received funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Brock University’s Council for Research in the Social Sciences, Brock University’s Social Justice Research Institute; and Western University’s Faculty of Social Science.