VANCOUVER -- The B.C. government has announced a new $5 million program to get unemployed youths working during the pandemic.

The 16-week Youth Community Partnership program was announced Monday by Melanie Mark, the province's minister of advanced education, skills and training, who said it will benefit people between the ages of 15 and 29.

Mark said the pandemic has hit that age group "very hard," and that 25 per cent of youths across the province are currently unemployed.

"Young people who have just graduated from high school are thinking about what their future looks like, and there's been a lot of uncertainty out there," Mark said.

Participants in the program will be paid a training stipend of $2,000 per four-week period, for a maximum of $8,000. Mark said they will build trails, upgrade green spaces, clean beaches and work on similar community service projects.

"It's going to give young people an opportunity to work outdoors, gain work experience and transferable skills," she added.

The youths will also be given "wraparound supports" such as bus passes, work boots and personal protective equipment.

Local governments, Indigenous communities, non-profit organizations, chambers of commerce, employer associations and environmental organizations can apply for grants of up to $10,000 per youth for 16-week projects that run any time between June and the end of October.

All projects will follow provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry's COVID-19 guidelines, officials said. A maximum of 10 young people will be able to work on any given project at once to ensure physical distancing can be maintained.

The government said it expects up to 500 youths in more than 50 communities could take part.