Tag Archives: youth engagement

The Importance of Youth Engagement to Rural Ontario

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:

Ryan Deska

Project Lead, Community Development Specialist

Rural Ontario Institute




Driving the conversation forward with youth in Perth County

Across rural Ontario, where youth out-migration to urban centres is a concerning trend; finding new ways to engage young people in their communities is increasingly important. More needs to be done to incorporate the voice of youth in local planning and development processes. 

“Youth will only return home if they feel they have left something behind”

Jacinda Rudolph of LaunchPad at Rural Ontario Summit, 2016

Perth County is one community that is making progress on this front. The county knows that the success of tomorrow’s workforce is deeply dependent on being able to stop the out-migration of its youth population, and they are taking an active approach to ensuring this trend stops.

The communities of Perth County are taking innovative steps to incorporate the voice of youth in the narrative of community development.

“Youth are important contributors to our economy and to our communities’ overall quality of life,” says Meredith Forget, Economic Development Officer for Perth County. “Youth are entrepreneurs, performers, volunteers, mentors, community leaders, employees to small businesses and consumers in our local economies. Youth have a significant impact on the vitality of their communities, and we are looking for ways to support them – in growing, learning, working and making a home in rural Ontario.”

The Perth4Youth Strategic Planning initiative is wrapping up after many months of hard work, community consultations and action planning. This initiative to date has been led by Perth County’s four lower tier municipalities and the cities of Stratford and St. Marys, with support from their respective municipal councils.

To enrich data gathering efforts for the broader Perth4Youth initiative, a unique youth focused, civic engagement process was developed and implemented. This process has brought together multiple community and educational partners to deliver a unique applied learning opportunity for students, and a medium to better express and capture the community’s youth voice. This initiative creates the opportunity to incorporate data collected by youth, for youth, into community based strategic planning.

Three energetic and motivated students from Listowel District Secondary School (LDSS) students took on this project last semester as part of their coursework in this their 4th and final year of high school.

This youth engagement pilot was designed to:

  • Engage students in their communities, and foster an appreciation for the value of civic engagement and municipal governance
  • Support students along the way in “learning by doing”
  • Gather data to inform the Perth4Youth strategic planning process and future community action to support youth.

In carrying out their in-school consultations with their peers, the LDSS student team produced: Continue reading Driving the conversation forward with youth in Perth County