TORONTO — Starbucks Canada is expanding a program to address “a crisis” in youth unemployment by committing to hire 10 per cent of its work force from among the country’s disadvantaged young people.
The Opportunity Youth program was launched as a pilot in Toronto in April. Starbucks will expand the program, starting in Montreal and Vancouver, and eventually reaching across Canada, employing 3,500 people between the ages of 16 and 24, who are not working, in school or in a training program.
“There’s a crisis on youth unemployment and there’s a crisis on the hope that you can achieve, that you can get started,” Luisa Girotto, Starbucks Canada’s vice-president of public affairs, said. “It’s not enough to say we’ll hire five, we’ll hire ten. It’s not about making a little dent.”
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Canada’s national youth unemployment rate was 13.5 per cent in October, nearly double the general rate of 7.1 per cent, a difference that Girotto called “staggering.”
Most of the hires in the Starbucks program will be part-time. But during the pilot program, Girotto said multiple shift supervisors and associates were hired and identified as having the potential to ascend in the company’s ranks.
Starbucks Canada employees who work a minimum of 20 hours per week are entitled to dental and medical benefits and tuition reimbursement, Girotto said.
Sherry Cooper, chief economist at Dominion Lending Centres, said the program is “good for business” and could lead to Starbucks gaining a competitive edge.
“If I had the choice between Starbucks and Timothy’s, there’s a likelihood that I would choose Starbucks because of this very thing,” Cooper said. “It gives them an aura of being a good company. It makes people who are customers feel better about buying Starbucks and could potentially increase their customer base.”
Cooper said she expects other large retail chains to take notice and potentially follow suit.
“There’s always this need to effect, especially since I think it gives Starbucks a competitive advantage. So we may well see it in all kinds of sectors… and not just minimum wage jobs either.”
Girotto said the retailer decided to take action on youth unemployment after speaking with employees.
“When we ask do you think you can achieve your dream, it’s actually sad to hear how many of them struggle and say ‘I don’t know how I can afford Toronto’ ” Girotto said. “There’s this lack of investment and lack of coaching, mentorship and network that is becoming increasingly important to securing jobs.”
Oscar Flores, 24, has a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in Venezuela. He came to Toronto little more than one year ago to study English and found it difficult to find a job before being hired as part of the program.
“First you’re struggling with your language so that’s the first barrier that you’ll find,” Flores said. “The way of how you build your resumé and present yourself in an interview is totally different so I had to learn everything from scratch.
“I was looking for help and found the program.”