Alberta university students struggle to find jobs despite employment landscape re-opening

·3 min read
Cuts to jobs programs and lingering impacts of the pandemic are said to have affected students summer employment search. (David Bell/CBC - image credit)
Cuts to jobs programs and lingering impacts of the pandemic are said to have affected students summer employment search. (David Bell/CBC - image credit)

In less than two weeks, many university students in Alberta will be done with their exams and on the hunt for summer jobs.

And while the employment landscape doesn't look quite as bleak as it did last year, some students are still struggling to find positions.

"Part of the issue is that the same opportunities that existed a few years ago before the pandemic [still] haven't materialized for students," said Nicole Schmidt, president of the Students' Union at the University of Calgary.

"So it looks like we're headed towards another summer that's going to be challenging employment-wise."

Blessie Mathew, acting director of the University of Alberta's career centre, said that while the centre is back at pre-pandemic level job postings, she recognizes this summer may still be difficult for students.

"We're hopeful that things will continue to improve in the Alberta economy and that the situation might get a little bit better for students moving forward," said Mathew.

Some seasonal employers have noticed a labour shortage in the wake of the pandemic, a disconnect that Schmidt also acknowledged.

She noted certain available positions may not pay students enough to cover their bills, or align with their career aspirations.

Mathew said the University of Alberta's student job board doesn't discriminate between jobs that require a high school diploma and those that require more specialized experience.

"The ideal situation is that a student can make a living, save up for school [and] tackle some of their debt while gaining experience in their fields of study."

Jobs program needed

Schmidt points to the absence of a student jobs program as a factor in low placements, in addition to the lingering impacts of the pandemic.

The provincial government eliminated Alberta's Summer Temporary Employment Program (STEP) in 2019.

At the time, a ministry of labour spokesperson said that the program wasn't an efficient use of funds.

Under STEP, municipalities, small businesses and not-for-profits were subsidized to hire students over the summer between May and August.

Schmidt said the University of Calgary's student union has been advocating for a new program to be implemented to help students find work.

"Unfortunately, these calls have really fallen on deaf ears," she said.

The provincial government recently announced its Alberta at Work program, which will invest $600 million over the next three years in retraining the workforce.

Schmidt said that it's unclear what sort of long-term impact the program will have on students' employment opportunities.

She did note, however, that the provincial program targets recent graduates or those looking for long-term employment, rather than short-term employment over the summer months.

Federal wage subsidies through avenues such as the Canada Summer Jobs program are currently available to Alberta businesses, said Mathew.

"For employers that have been able to utilize wage subsidies and bring students in, it's not unusual for us to see those internship opportunities [or] summer job opportunities turn into full-time employment for students after they graduate," she said.

"So for both students and employers, it's a very beneficial pathway to long-term employment and [a] benefit to the economy."

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