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The youth are starting to change

By Ryan Moran

In the song “The Youth,” on the 2007 album Oracular Spectacular, the band MGMT declares that “the Youth are starting to change, are you starting to change?”

Indeed, in the context of municipal population planning, the youth are starting to change. This change is occurring both demographically and conceptually. In terms of population, proportionately, there are increasingly less Canadian youth now than in decades past. In terms of definition, despite the official Government of Canada definition of 15-30 years of age, some groups, including Next Generation Consulting and their Next Cities project work, identify youth, young leaders and professionals as stretching up into the early 40s. Conceptually, “youth” is increasingly being recognized as an umbrella term, taking into account a myriad of life-stages, choices, and identities.

In addition to this, in 2002, the Conference board of Canada announced that by the year 2020, Canada will face a workforce shortage of one million workers.

This prediction holds pressing implications for Canadian provinces, regions, cities and organizations in regards to attracting and retaining the top talent of the next generations – including Generation X, Generation Y (Millenials), and thereafter.

This will, and indeed, already does, require these entities to change. So, to follow-up on MGMT’s question, is Hamilton starting to change? Well, sort of.

It is actually two questions. The first: Are youth, grassroots groups, a collective of companies both for and not-for-profit, various individuals in the city, and the City’s administration changing? Yes.

Is the City of Hamilton, in the overall sense of having a vision, strategy, and leadership on the topic of youth, both in and outside of the city limits changing? No.

Recently the Hamilton Training Advisory Board (HTAB) commissioned a report assessing Hamilton’s strengths and weaknesses (resources, community partners, etc.) in relation to youth. This assessment can serve as preliminary work towards the potential development of a comprehensive Hamilton Youth Strategy, and was defined by the principles of Youth Attraction, Retention, Engagement and Development. To be clear, this would not be a strategy that HTAB would, or necessarily should, compile (though, like many others, they would play a role as a community partner), but rather, it is the strategy that the City of Hamilton should have initiated development on a decade ago.

The average age of Hamilton’s population, like most geographically definable regions in the “developed” world, has been steadily increasing. This trend is alarming, but not startling. However, it should also be noted that Hamilton’s average age is consistently above that of the Province. Moreover, the McMaster Alumni Association has identified that in 1997 the McMaster University alumni population was approximately 90,000, with 70% of active alumni residing in the Golden Horseshoe, in 2011, those numbers are 152,218 and 47% respectively.

Hamilton has been experiencing a net out-migration of youth for some time, and the time for action was years ago. Yet, it is not necessarily too late to act. If not from immediately committing to the development and implementation of such a strategy, Hamilton can, at least, easily benefit from the similar complacency of other Canadian municipalities.

Now, there is no intention of turning this into a Hamilton-youth downer manifesto, if you are reading this article, you are likely one who is already well aware of Hamilton’s various strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, it is more worthwhile to take advantage of the fact that those reading this may indeed be those who can effect change in the city. As such, for more info on what can, has, will, and needs to be done, see next month’s issue.

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