The strength and vitality of rural communities is contingent on our ability to attract young leaders: they are entrepreneurs, employees, neighbours, volunteers and patrons of local businesses.
Making headlines in Ontario Farmer: “Labour shortage worsening in Perth, Huron, Grey and Bruce”. Labour force availability in rural communities is being cited as a problem by employers and economic developers across the province. It’s a challenge across all sectors, from manufacturing to agriculture to tourism to healthcare.
As rural Ontario’s population ages, its labour force – the working age population – is shrinking. (Look for the Rural Ontario Institute’s Focus on Rural Ontario Factsheets for migration trends by age).
When youth leave rural Ontario for post-secondary education and job training, fewer return home with the skills and experiences they have learned along the way. It can be even more difficult to attract new young workers from outside the community to fill available jobs. (It should be noted that youth migration rates have regional variations in their youth populations (15-29) and it is important for communities to understand their local context).
The experiences of youth growing up in rural Ontario is increasingly an important consideration for any municipality pursuing economic or community development.
So why youth engagement?
Many communities are talking about youth engagement. We see it popping up in community strategic plans, from economic development to community health and well-being.
Youth are capable of affecting positive change in their communities. In rural Ontario especially, where many volunteers wear many hats, engaged youth are valuable assets.
Jacinda Rudolph, who has spent a significant amount of time working with youth at the Youth Activity and Technology Centre in Hanover, Ontario, says “people will only return if they feel like they’ve left something behind”.
In other words, if we can create meaningful ways for youth to get involved in their communities it will have a lasting impact; they will be more likely to see their community as a long-term opportunity; they will feel invested.
What are communities doing?
Communities across Ontario are creating youth advisory councils and youth action committees; they are hosting open-houses with local youth and organizing youth-focussed networking events. Simply put, communities are starting a conversation that recognizes the importance of the youth experience in rural Ontario.
Perth County has recently released their Prosper In Perth County campaign, an initiative stemming from strategic planning and youth engagement sessions that have taken place over many years. The Perth County Economic Development team came to the realization that youth were disconnected from the breadth of career opportunities in Perth County.
Through “career cards” and video profiles, Prosper in Perth County is striving to show local youth the opportunities that exist for stimulating and prosperous careers close to home. Additionally, the economic development team is connecting these resources with teachers in highschools, helping them help their students evaluate career opportunities.
What is the Rural Ontario Institute doing?
To support the work currently underway, and to help communities explore new opportunities for youth engagement, ROI is undertaking the Municipal Internship – Youth Engagement Strategies project.
ROI is currently accepting Expressions of Interest from community partners. Through this project, 12 rural communities will receive financial assistance ($8,000) in the summer of 2019 for the purposes of:
- financing the employment of a municipal intern by the municipality;
- developing and implementing youth engagement strategies; and/or
- off-setting staff time dedicated to supervising the intern and reporting on the project.
The youth engagement activities are not prescribed, but may include:
- Strategic Planning: laying a foundation for youth engagement activities.
- Community Research: listening to what youth have to say on community needs.
- Political engagement: youth advisory/action committees.
- Story-telling: sharing and/or helping youth to tell their stories.
- Youth-serving functions: networking events, volunteer opportunities.
- Youth engagement education: workshops, communications materials, projects.
To learn more, please visit our website: http://www.ruralontarioinstitute.ca/programs/youthengagementstrategies or get in touch with me directly:
Project Lead, Community Development Specialist
Rural Ontario Institute