OTTAWA -- Almost 42,000 businesses have applied to hire a student through the Canada Summer Jobs program, surpassing the number of applications last year, the federal government says.

The number of applications could be considered a bit of a miracle after federal officials predicted earlier this year that applications would fall short of the government's goals.

The feared shortfall was the reason the Liberals extended the application period for an extra two weeks in January, giving federal officials and MPs more time to promote the program in regions where applications were lagging.

Exactly how many jobs that translates into at not-for-profit organizations, public sector employers and small businesses with 50 or fewer employees won't be known until the end of the year.

Employers annually withdraw from the program despite being approved for funding, sometimes because they can't recruit students, or they overestimate how many positions they need to fill.

Last year, the program funded almost 66,000 jobs, but fell short of the 77,000 jobs the Liberals had hoped to fill with the help of an extra $113 million annually last year, this year, and next.

The program is one piece in a larger puzzle that the government is trying to solve about how to boost youth employment for now and in the future in the face of a rapidly shifting economy.

Last year, the Liberals struck an expert panel to come up with recommendations on how the government could help young people, many of whom were key to the Liberals' election success. Yet two months after the panel delivered its final report to Labour Minister Patty Hajdu, the Liberals have yet to release the document.

In an interview last week, Hajdu said the report would be released very soon. She said the government was working out the logistics of the release, including how it would be released, where the announcement would take place and — most importantly — when the public would see the document.

Hajdu said she expected the report to become the basis of a long-term plan for the government.

"I see the report as a real foundation and starting point, but it's not sort of the end of the story. There's a need to make sure we are continually evolving as youth evolve and as the job market evolves."

The Liberals second budget put an emphasis on skills training and getting students more on-the-job experience to help navigate a labour market defined by part-time and precarious employment and job churn.

But just how bad the situation is for young workers is the subject of some debate among federal officials.

Internal government documents suggest that concerns about the number of young workers caught in part-time employment — usually considered to be precarious employment — may be overblown.

The commentary on a December research paper from a national think-tank cites internal government research that shows part-time work has been relatively stable relative to the overall economy over the last two decades, meaning jumps in part-time work might just be a result of an increasing population.

Even though youth are over-represented in part-time or temporary work like casual, seasonal and contract jobs, it may simply be because it represents a stepping stone towards more stable employment, say the documents, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.