Canadian youth enter the job market early, IWH study finds

Young people in Canada aged 12 to 14 are working in greater numbers than most would suppose. Nearly 53 per cent of youth in Ontario and 42 per cent in British Columbia reported working during the school year, according to a new study conducted at the Institute for Work & Health.

The study, led by Scientist Dr. Curtis Breslin, is the first in Canada to estimate employment patterns for 12- to 14-year-olds, despite consistent evidence for the presence of young adolescents in the labour market. The study was published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health (volume 99, issue 3).

After years of conducting young worker research, it became clear to me that Canadian youth begin working at a much younger age than we actually had good data for, Breslin says.

The study results come from school-based surveys. Breslin and his team added their questions about work experiences and work-related injuries to existing surveys about smoking and substance abuse that had already been planned for Ontario and B.C. schools. In all, Breslin looked at responses from 1,318 students in 2003 and 2005.

While the overall employment rate was slightly higher in Ontario, employment in formal work settings was similar in the two provinces. The number of hours worked per week ranged from an average of 3.3 hours among 12-year-olds in Ontario, to 11.7 hours among 14-year-olds in B.C.

The rate of work-related injuries in this age group is comparable to that of 15- to 24-year-olds, the study showed. Work injuries were reported by six per cent of youth surveyed in Ontario and 3.5 per cent in B.C.

The percentage of youth at this age having a work injury requiring medical attention is surprisingly high, said Breslin. We should be looking at ways to track the work health and safety of Canadian youth, for instance by including respondents in this younger age bracket in the Canadian Labour Force Survey.

The nature and causes of work injuries for younger workers requires further investigation. However, a significant number of 12- to 14-year-olds in B.C. – nearly 23 per cent – reported having no supervision while working. This is despite new provincial regulations requiring the presence of an adult supervisor for workers of this age.

The transition to the labour market is accompanied by exposure to known workplace safety risks at any age, says Breslin. In order to protect and empower our youngest workers, we require a better understanding of where they’re working, what they’re doing, and the particular hazards to which they may be vulnerable. Better surveillance is a good first step.

Source: At Work, Issue 54, Fall 2008: Institute for Work & Health, Toronto