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Canada businesses hire young teenagers to fill labor shortage

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Sofia-Rose Adams, 13, is among a growing number of youngsters filling a labor shortfall in Quebec province where the unemployment rate is just 3.9 percent./AFP
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Jun 15, 2022 - 06:08 AM

Saint-Mathias-sur-Richelieu, Canada — Sofia-Rose Adams skillfully scoops ice cream onto cones and manages the cash register at Les Gourmandes cafe and ice cream parlor in Canada’s Montreal region.

The 13-year-old, who wears a blue cap and round glasses, is one of an increasing number of teens who have decided to work after school, helping to address the country’s labor shortage.

“I wanted a part-time job, work hours here and there, to earn some pocket money,” said Adams.

For the teenager, who is into music and improvisational theatre, it is “normal to start working” at her age.

In Canada’s francophone province of Quebec, there is no minimum age to work — only parental authorization is required for those under 14 years old.

There is also no limit on the number of hours worked as long as it is not during school hours or at night for those who are under 16.

In Les Gourmandes’ kitchen, other teenage girls prepare soups. Seven of the eight employees of the small business are under 18 years old.

“After the pandemic, we found ourselves with major hiring problems,” said owner Marie-Eve Guertin, who had to turn to employees under 15 this year for the first time in almost a decade of operating the restaurant.

“For full-time jobs, it’s very difficult. I haven’t received any resumes,” Guertin said, so she turned to teenagers to keep her business afloat.

“You want to grow a business, you don’t want to restrict it,” she said, wanting to avoid reducing opening hours as many other restaurants have done.

In Quebec, the latest unemployment rate is 3.9 percent, while the country wide figure is 5.1 percent. The lack of workers in almost every sector has forced businesses to be creative to meet their needs. For some, that has meant hiring teenagers, and in some cases, pre-teens.

‘Demonstration of autonomy’ 

While there is no data available on the number of children under 14 in the labor market, statistics show that half of Quebecers aged 15 to 19 have jobs.

“I started working at 14,” said Philippe Marcil, now 17 and an employee of a men’s clothing store in a Montreal suburb.

“I understood from a young age that it was important to gain experience in the labor market, so I wanted to experiment with that,” said the young man, who previously worked for two years as a supervisor at a fast food chain.

The avid hockey player and runner, who wants to become a lawyer, said he manages to find a balance between social life, work and studies by making “pretty precise schedules,” which he tries to stick to as much as possible.

Marcil, who is also very invested in school, has imposed a limit of 15 hours of paid work per week on himself, so his professional life does not encroach on his studies.

Charles Fleury, a sociologist and industrial relations professor at Laval University in Quebec City, said child labor “has always been somewhat present in Quebec, especially if we compare to European countries.”

“Whether you are a child from a privileged or disadvantaged family, there is really this kind of validation of work as a demonstration of autonomy,” he said.

But what is new is that with the labor shortage, the type of jobs are changing. Today, teenagers are no longer content with babysitting, delivering newspapers or picking fruit on a farm.

And this is beginning to stir concerns: Quebec Minister of Labor Jean Boulet recently commented that he did not find it “normal” for 11-year-old children to be working and suggested that Quebec was considering legislation to better regulate the work of most youth.

Elsewhere in Canada, minors are also allowed to work, but the minimum age and parental permissions required vary from province to province.

Even if these teenagers decide on their own to enter the labor market, “there is still a risk of encouraging school failure and dropping out,” Fleury warned.

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