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Important Context for Counselling Youth

Definitions of youth can vary by culture and context. On alis, youth refers to young people between the ages of 15 and 24 years. This places the current cohort firmly in Generation Z.

Labour market for youth

“[The] labour market [for youth] will be so different from what we see. The choices that they are making will fit for them and the labour market they will be in. Many youth are very entrepreneurial by nature, and some get squashed because they are expected to conform to ‘our’ ideas. Don’t judge their choices based on previous labour markets. And don’t judge their ideas on what we are comfortable with.”

—Kristen Cumming, Career Insight

Young people inhabit a world dominated by change and technology. Economically, the world is getting smaller. Information technology has broken down barriers and created global markets for local goods and services. Electronic commerce and mobile communications continue to grow. Globalization, technological change, and organizational restructuring have resulted in a new world of work for experienced workers.

Youth, on the other hand, have always lived in this new world. They have never known life without the internet, smartphones, social media, and artificial intelligence. To them, this isn’t technology—it’s an extension of themselves.

Generation Z

Born from 1996 through 2015, Generation Z is sometimes referred to as the Internet Generation. They’re the first cohort to grow up in an environment where connections to online information and communities are commonplace.

Technology as landscape

“Today’s kids are so bathed in bits that they think it’s all part of the natural landscape... For the first time in history, children are more comfortable, knowledgeable, and literate than their parents about an innovation central to society.”

—Don Tapscott, Author, Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation

Keep in mind the characteristics of this generation when working with and planning activities for them:

  • Fierce independence. They tend to be information seekers rather than passive information recipients. They like autonomy and independence.
  • Emotional and intellectual openness. They are used to being very open about personal information, likes, dislikes, and inner thoughts, as they have done this online for some time.
  • Inclusion. With the ability to connect with others around the world, they are not bound by racial or ethnic stereotypes or geographical boundaries.
  • Free expression and strong views. Through the internet, they are exposed to a wide variety of beliefs and opinions. They are able to express their own beliefs strongly and anonymously, if they choose, and find a community where those views are accepted.
  • Innovation. They are very comfortable with new technology and adopt it readily and easily.
  • Preoccupation with maturity. They demand to be taken seriously and expect to be measured by their ideas, not their age.
  • Entrepreneurial mindset. The internet and social media allow them to realize their ideas and sell them to a global audience. Help them explore youth-focused self-employment programs.
  • Desire for stability. They are money oriented and pragmatic, with an interest in certainty and stability. They expect to work harder than previous generations and are less optimistic about the economy.
  • Investigation. Many seem to be interested not only in using available technology, but also in knowing how it works.
  • Immediacy. This group lives in a real-time world where responses online are immediate. They expect the same immediate gratification in the rest of their lives.
  • Sensitivity to corporate involvement. These youth are accustomed to free and individual expression. They have turned away from media monopolies while developing a sensitivity to and suspicion of corporate interests.
  • Authentication and trust. Many youth appreciate the potential for fraud, inaccuracy, and deception on the internet. They know it is important to be aware of authenticity and be able to trust information.

A post-progress generation

Unlike the more optimistic Millennials, Generation Z is quicker to question the notion of progress. Having experienced rapid and significant technological, economic, and social change, they’re not always convinced that change is positive.

Climate change threatens their future. Social media creates communities but also polarizes them. Economic growth hasn’t always created jobs for their parents. Wages haven’t kept up with increases in the cost of living or the cost of a post-secondary education.

While this generation is adept at change and able to navigate it, they understand its limits and don’t always trust it. They recognize that they will likely have a more difficult time than their parents and are bracing themselves for that reality.

Youth and identity

Sexual orientation was added to the Alberta Human Rights Act as protected grounds in 2009. Gender identity and gender expression were added in 2015. Youth, families, schools, and teachers have been at the forefront of this human rights transition.

As a result, Generation Z is well informed and comfortable with concepts such as gender fluidity, non-binary identities, and pronoun use. They are more likely to know someone who is out of the closet with their sexual orientation or gender identity. Diversity is their norm. They understand identity as multi-layered and generally see value in their other intersecting identities such as culture and ethnicity.

The parent connection

The importance of parents

“I never realized how critical parents are. They are our co-clients. They co-purchase (along with the student) education, housing, and other services. Ultimately, it is so important to include parents.”

—Kristen Cumming, Career Insight

Many youth enjoy spending time with their parents and are quite connected with them. They see their parents as up to date on youth’s favourite music, and they seek their parents’ opinions on everything from sex to snack foods. Teens also go to parents for career advice and explore the world of work through their parents’ experiences.

Employment challenges and rising education costs and cost of living keep many young people living with their parents while they go to school. They also return home during periods of unemployment or underemployment and to gain support during major life transitions.

The COVID-19 pandemic

The career planning, secondary and post-secondary education, and early employment of Generation Z directly intersect with the arrival of the global COVID-19 pandemic. The resulting high unemployment, remote learning, and limits on in-person socialization during these formative periods will definitely shape their perspective. While the impact on their career development remains unknown, it is likely to be significant and disruptive.

Education

High school completion

Some factors that affect the likelihood of high school completion include:

  • The average family income
  • The average total years of the student’s mother’s education
  • The student’s mobility (school changes) during high school years
  • How close the student’s school is to specific economic regions (for example, oil and gas industries)
  • How close the student’s school is to post-secondary institutions
  • Whether the student lives in a 1- or 2-parent family

Barriers to post-secondary education

About half of youth report facing barriers to post-secondary education. These can include:

  • Financial concerns
  • Inability to gain acceptance in a preferred program
  • Not enough interest or motivation
  • Wanting to work
  • Caring for their own children

Education and employment prospects

There is a clear connection between level of education and employment prospects. Here are some key factors:

  • Unemployment risks. Young adults with low levels of education face a greater risk of unemployment. They are also likely to be unemployed for longer or multiple periods of time. This group may not benefit from positive turns in the economy.
  • Impact of educational deficits. Experience in the labour market does not compensate for low levels of education.
  • Vocational training. Vocational training leading to credentials recognized by employers seems to be effective in leading to immediate opportunities to hold skilled jobs.

Career maturity

Career maturity can be defined as a person’s ability and commitment to activities that lead to career advancement. It looks at the realism of hopes and dreams for the future.

Youth tend to confuse or blend the concepts of occupations, jobs, and careers. They also tend to apply a more practical, employment-oriented perspective. As youth mature, they increasingly begin to apply a more holistic understanding of their career as a life role, a contribution to society, and a journey that may take them through multiple occupations.

School-to-work transitions

A young person’s career development process tends to be dominated by the school-to-work transition. Like all major life transitions, this one takes time. Each person responds individually. The ability to manage the transition depends on many factors, including self-confidence, resourcefulness, resilience, and access to support systems.

With limited life experience, youth have not had the same opportunity as adults to develop in many areas that relate to career building and employment. They may have limited self-awareness. They may also have limited information about the career-building process and how they might move forward most effectively.

Employability

Employability factors, including personal (attitudinal), technical, and transferable skills, are important to all workers, including youth. Youth may face a number of employability barriers relating to these factors.

Job adjustment barriers

Employability involves being able to do the job to the satisfaction of the employer. Young people may face adjustments in the following areas:

  • Reaching and maintaining satisfactory job performance
  • Fitting into the organization
  • Adapting to co-workers
  • Proving to be a responsible worker
  • Maintaining a good attitude

Additional barriers for youth at risk

Challenges for youth transitioning from provincial care

“Youth in care also face unique challenges on the road to adulthood. Transitioning to independence is expected at an earlier age, and supports are often cut off when a young person turns 18… Youth who grow up in foster care have typically experienced minimal control over their lives and by the time they reach 18 have had little practice making decisions for themselves… They need more rather than fewer resources, yet are most likely to lack access to family members or other caring adults who would typically serve as support to a struggling young adult.”

—Diane McGregor and Rita Coleman, Transitions Project, University of Calgary

Disadvantaged youth face additional employability and employment barriers, including:

  • The need for child care and transportation
  • Social and interpersonal conflicts
  • Financial problems
  • Legal problems
  • Substance abuse
  • Discrimination
  • Disabilities that may or may not have been diagnosed
  • Emotional or personal problems, which may lead to health problems or behavioural issues
  • Experiences of date rape, abuse by intimate partners, or sexual exploitation that hamper their ability to build healthy relationships
  • Experiences of trauma

Counsellors working with youth at risk should understand trauma-informed care and practice

Recommending technology to youth

Because of their familiarity with consumer technology, youth will have strong opinions about the websites, apps, and software you ask them to use. Look for well-designed solutions that are clear, intuitive, fast loading, and easy to use on a smartphone. Also look for strong visual components that are youthful without being childlike.

Good examples of modern career planning technologies for youth include:

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