Hundreds of Calgary youth gathered at City Hall on Friday for the annual hiring fair that aims to connect young people with prospective employers.

Hosted by the Youth Employment Centre, the event invites youth aged 16 to 24 to meet with leading employers in Calgary including HMSHost, Starbucks, TELUS, The Source and Walmart.

Jennifer Macsween, a spokesperson for the YEC, says that there are a number of challenges that young people face in the labour market other than just their age.

“It’s a lack of experience and because of the recent downturn in the economy, those young people are competing against a much larger pool of candidates so really, without utilizing the resources at their disposal, it’s much more challenging to get into the workforce today.”

She says that many of the employers she has spoken with at the fair really want to help youth with their long term career growth.

“They are really dedicated and they want to support that youth demographic. It’s about building up their skillset both personally and professional so that they can become really strong contributing members of society and help to grow our workforce here in Calgary and in Canada in general.”

Sam Wankowski, senior VP of operations at Walmart Western Canada, says he is thrilled to be a part of the event to help a number of Calgary youth.

“We look to employ up to 30 to 40 youth into our stores here in Calgary.”

He says there is a huge amount of career opportunity for any young person within the organization.

“Regardless of whether or not they’ve had work experience, they’ve also had a tremendous amount of experience in life,” Wankowski says. “There’s a huge amount of skills that youth today are learning from experiences they may have had.”

He says that Walmart’s policy is to pay above minimum wage at many of their stores, but that isn’t the only reward for working there.

“There’s a huge amount of benefits that we offer associates outside of base pay. We’ve got a partnership with Goodlife Fitness, the employee discounts we offer [and] the benefit incentives we offer in terms of health care.”

One young applicant, 16-year-old Erik Burney, says he is seeking a job for the first time to help pay for his post-secondary education.

“I want to go into engineering so it’s a great place to get my foot in the door,” he says. “I’m hoping to raise at least $5,000 and then start adding up from there to get my first year covered.”

He says all of his friends already have jobs so he wants to catch up with the rest of them.

“At this age, I’m looking to find anything that I can do. Basically I’m open to anything.”

It’s the second year for the initiative and will continue to work towards the YEC’s goal of providing meaningful employment to 40,000 Canadian youth.

“Currently only 10.5 percent of the youth demographic, 15 to 24 years old, are represented in the workforce. That’s a fairly low statistic and talking with those employers, they are excited and they want to bring in that young talent,” Macsween says.

According to Statistics Canada, nearly one million young Canadians are either not in school or gainfully employed.

(With files from Chris Epp)