Jobs cut, love lives lost, internships on hold: How COVID-19 is impeding the dreams of young Albertans

·16 min read
CBC
CBC

Young Albertans in their late teens and 20s say they are struggling to find a path forward amid a pandemic that has upended their lives and changed the world around them.

Many young Albertans interviewed by CBC News said they are concerned about their future careers and whether or not they will find steady jobs after graduation.

Others said they are worried the pandemic will continue to impact their social lives — upending their dating prospects, new friendships and opportunities to try new things.

"I know a lot of young people my age, a lot of my peers, are really trying to do the right thing right now," said Laura MacTaggart, a university student from Lacombe. "And this is a very tough time to be a young person.

"Some things that our society places as big experiences or rites of passage, now young people don't get that."

Many said they don't feel like their concerns have been heard or that there is compassion for what they're experiencing.

And while some young Albertans understand the COVID-19 protocols, many still have questions about how they are supposed to navigate this new normal.

  • Listen to Alberta at Noon below to hear from many more young Albertans about how their lives have been impacted amid COVID-19.

Chester Ho, 24: Impacted job search for university grads

Chester Ho is a recent graduate from the information design program at Mount Royal University in Calgary.

He immigrated to Canada five years ago from Vietnam with a plan to obtain his degree and then find work in Canada.

Since graduating in 2019, Ho hasn't been able to find a job in his field and has since worked as a server in a restaurant.

"I didn't have a lot of support when I was still in school because a lot of the jobs for internships, they're only exclusively applicable for permanent residents," he said.

Before the pandemic, Ho said his hopes remained high he would find work. He said he would frequently meet with a career counsellor as well as volunteer in the community.

That all changed drastically for him in March.

I've been dealt a pretty bad hand right now, and I don't know how to get out of it. - Chester Ho, recent graduate of Mount Royal University

"I barely know how to navigate through the old world. And now that this new world has a new set of challenges, I don't know how to navigate through it," he said.

Ho said he is stressed because without obtaining a career in his field or one with a certain skill level, he will not be able to apply for permanent residency.

"I've been dealt a pretty bad hand right now, and I don't know how to get out of it," Ho said.

He said he doesn't think COVID-19 is going to blow over anytime soon and is concerned how that will impact his career path.

"The only thing that I am very confident in is that, well, I just need to find a way to talk to someone, make them laugh," he said.

"But it's still weird, because this is not like you can talk your way out anymore … everything is kind of isolated and you don't know where you're going."

Laura MacTaggart, 25: Found it a damper on life plans

Laura MacTaggart is from a small farm outside of Lacombe, located 25 kilometres north of Red Deer.

Presently, she is completing her master's degree in community and regional planning at the University of British Columbia.

She said she is feeling confident about her options for work after graduation.

"I think there's a lot of places that have done a good job of adjusting to have virtual positions available," she said.

But MacTaggart said she has felt the social implications of the pandemic, particularly in the dating world.

"For people of my age, you know, it's really hard to date in these times," she said.

"There was a lot of openness about online dating and maybe trying virtual dates. And for some people that just doesn't feel super comfortable and it doesn't feel real."

Before the pandemic, MacTaggart said people had the option of meeting someone at events or through friends.

"I think the bigger thing that I feel I'm missing out on is the more organic way of meeting people," she said.

Since the pandemic hit, MacTaggart has tried online dating, but said some people aren't "COVID-respectful." Some have asked her if she would go to a restaurant or a bar.

"Right now, I'm not comfortable with that," she said.

"Slowly, over time, they just stop talking to you," MacTaggart said.

"I'm not cut off right away, but it kind of peters out because you weren't interested in doing the same things they were."

MacTaggart said at this point in her life she is looking for a relationship and worries she will struggle to find someone.

"I am scared that COVID will last, or the types of ways that we're living and dating right now will last, for years," she said.

"I'm scared that I won't meet someone and that it'll be, in part, because of COVID."

Maddie Toohey, 27: Concerned about career development

Maddie Toohey works at a digital marketing company, but has been working from home since March.

"I have a great job and I don't have to really worry about losing my job, which is not a luxury most people get," she said.

"But I do worry about my career development."

Toohey said she's at a point in her career where she's been doing the same role for a while. She is concerned that the impacts of COVID-19 will stop her from climbing the ladder or diversifying her role.

"I'm happy at my company, but again, there's not a lot that you can do for career development when you're all really far away," she said.

"I want to be challenging myself and exploring a little bit more outside of my normal job to find what the next step for me would be."

At this point, Toohey feels stuck and doesn't know what the future will look like.

"Even thinking about savings or, you know, getting a raise or anything like that at this point in time is kind of out of the question for me," she said.

"I'm getting older and I want to start to get more financially stable and I don't really feel empowered to do that right now."

Chris Mann, 25: Rented a place just before losing a job

Chris Mann, a residential planner, said he was laid off from his company in May.

"When the pandemic hit, they were kind of reassuring that everything would be OK and so on," Mann said.

"And then eventually there were mass layoffs in May and a big chunk of the company got terminated, including teammates, including myself."

Kristen Deschamps
Kristen Deschamps

When the pandemic hit in March, Mann said he had been living at his parents' house.

However, because his mom was high risk and he was still working at the time, he had to move out.

"I found a place just before I got terminated," he said.

"It put me in a difficult situation. But thanks to CERB, it kind of kept me afloat for those three months."

During that time, Mann said he was trying to look for work, but felt like he didn't have enough experience in his industry compared to other applicants.

"Even looking for just part-time work was limited. But I was really trying to find something in my field," he said. "Every time I'd apply, [the job site] Indeed would tell [me] how many applications were sent out.

"I saw some at 400, some at 700."

Mann said he has since found a new job within his field, but it took months to find.

"From what it sounds like, it's everything I hoped for. I'm kind of glad I waited out, because I think the right job and the right opportunity and the right company has come for me," he said.

He said he feels bad for young people who just graduated from post-secondary. Not only is it hard to find work, Mann said, it's hard to even get an interview.

"I had a few of them [I know] just trying to take whatever job they can and they're still struggling," he said.

Skylarr Amari, 21: Worried about jobs drying up

Skylarr Amari is currently working as a receptionist at a spa.

She said she was supposed to be at the University of Calgary for her third year of school, but decided to not go back until January.

"I figured that, you know, maybe by the winter semester, everything would be back to normal somewhat. But clearly, that's not going to be the case," Amari said.

Amari said she is fortunate her hours haven't been cut at work, but is concerned this will change.

"I have no idea if I'm going to lose my job next week because business is super slow," she said.

"You know, like you can't even be like, 'OK, well, I'm going to go and do another job and bring in extra income,' because there aren't jobs right now."

Before COVID, Amari said there were a lot of opportunities to pick up serving shifts in the downtown core.

Now, she is unsure what she would do financially if she lost her job as she doesn't have any backup like help from her family.

"I don't have any contact with my parents or anything and so, like, I've lived on my own since I was 17 and I've been able to fully support myself since then," she said.

"I know that I have really good friends that would do their best to help me. But they're also going to be in their 20s and a 20-year-old cannot support themselves and their friends."

Dylan Dent, 29: Challenged by dating amid a pandemic

Dylan Dent, a student at Mount Royal University, says at this point in his life he is looking to settle down and get married.

But because of COVID-19, dating has become more challenging.

"It's hard to meet people with shared interests, unless you want to do online dating, but even that's not that great," he said.

"And spending all this effort and energy and time to get to know somebody just for it to fall through. It can be pretty disheartening."

Dent says he got out of a long-term relationship a year and a half ago and that when he was ready to put himself out there again, the lockdown happened.

He says he's now scared that COVID-19 will prevent him from meeting someone that is right for him.

"You start thinking like, 'OK, well, when am I going to get the opportunity to meet somebody?" he said.

"And then even if I do like it, I'm just going to be dating them out of convenience or out of the fear that I might not actually be able to meet somebody that I'm more compatible with."

He says he's also concerned that his time is running out on having kids.

"I mean, I'm already thinking how I should have already started a family or I would have liked to have already had a family and be at that stage."

Rhea Jones, 17: Uncertain about plans after high school

Rhea Jones is a Grade 12 student at Foothills Composite High School in Okotoks.

She says her and her peers understand a lot of their problems due to COVID-19 are insignificant in the big picture, but it's still a letdown to each individual.

"Realistically, we won't be going getting the full high school experience, which is OK. But like, I don't know if there's going to be a grad. I don't know if we're allowed to have an after party because there'll be too many people," she said.

"It's not the end of the world if you can't do them, but they're just like the small things that people are missing out on."

As for her plans for after graduation, she says they are now up in the air.

"I actually want to pursue a career in music, meaning I don't want to go to university. It kind of makes it harder because there's no shows," she said.

"It will be hard for me to travel after I graduate, and to pursue a career in music, I would ideally have to."

When you're first coming out of high school, like, that's not a time you want to be paused in your life. - Rhea Jones

Regardless of what happens in the world, Jones says she still plans on following her dream but her method to reach it will need to be adjusted.

"It is a good time to just focus on developing the fundamental skills of writing new songs and stuff like that. So it may be a blessing in disguise in some ways."

Despite Jones' optimism, she says she feels like she is in a situation where she's not moving anywhere, and finds that a lot of kids are in the same boat.

"When you're first coming out of high school, like, that's not a time you want to be paused in your life. That's the time when you're ready to go and you're ready to start your real life," she said.

"So it's a weird time to just have the world on hold."

Hanson Feng, 17: Dashed hopes to travel and study abroad

Hanson Feng, who is a Grade 12 student at Sir Winston Churchill High School in Calgary, says COVID-19 has actually brought him a lot of opportunities.

He says he had been interning at the Centre for Newcomers for a few years now. When the pandemic hit, he was offered a bigger role.

"I started with our vulnerable clients, since they became more vulnerable."

As for after high school, Feng says he had the intention of leaving Alberta for post-secondary, but is unsure how realistic that plan will now be.

"I'm kind of backing myself up against the wall as I haven't applied to a university in Alberta, I've only applied to universities outside of Alberta. So that's kind of a decision I need to make by March," he said.

As well, he said he is disappointed that any future travel plans will potentially be cancelled.

"Me and my friends initially wanted to, between high school and university, go backpacking in Europe, which of course now it doesn't seem very feasible," he said.

"And then if COVID drags on for a very long time, I definitely wanted to do one or two semesters abroad, so that's another thing that's impacted."

Patrick Nicholls, 30: Living alone became much tougher

Patrick Nicholls, who works as a system controller at Alberta Electric System Operator, says he currently lives alone and is feeling the social impacts of COVID-19.

"It definitely takes a toll on your mental health and the social aspect of your life and everything else," he said.

Nicholls says he does shift work at his job and will have a good chunk of days off from time to time.

"I kind of thrived on that social aspect of having a certain night of the week, whether it be Wing Wednesdays or you know, punk rock bingo Tuesdays. I kind of had my days of the week pinpointed because a Tuesday for me could be my Friday or Saturday," he said.

He says his work schedule also allows him to do a lot of travel and that last year he went backpacking across Europe and Australia.

He was hoping to jet off again soon, but because of COVID-19 that likely won't be the case.

"In the last few years, I've lived to travel," he said.

"My number one thing is when can I go traveling again and not just to resorts for a week, but, you know, backpacking in Europe or Asia or back to Australia or wherever."

He said before the pandemic he was also looking into pursuing career options abroad.

"I've left the book open on where I want to go with my life in the future and in terms of living and residency and everything else. Obviously, you know, COVID shuts down the opportunity for any kind of working visa," he said.

He says even domestic travel seems like too much of a risk, especially visiting family and friends back home in the Greater Toronto Area.

"It's the first time I'm off for Christmas since 2015, so planning a trip back home to see my parents and my brother back in Ontario is now all of a sudden presented a bit of a challenge based on their rising numbers," he said.

"Do I want to bring it back to my family or, you know, pose that risk to my parents or my brother or anyone else I might see?"

Bailey Lang, 21: Stalled practicums hamper job search

Bailey Lang is completing the licensed practical nurse program at Bow Valley College in Calgary.

She says she finished classes in August and is waiting to complete her practicum, which will give her hands-on training at a hospital before graduation.

It would've taken her around 12 weeks to complete her final two practicums, but because of COVID-19, it's been pushed back.

"We've asked when our next placements are going to be, but [the school] told us that it could be spring 2021, if they can find us a placement. If not, it could be later," she said.

Supplied by Bailey Lang
Supplied by Bailey Lang

Lang says she is unsure what to do in the meantime since she could be assigned her practicum placement at any point.

"It's definitely frustrating to not know what your next step could be and kind of sit here and wait. I mean, I'd like to go find a job somewhere, but it's also hard to tell an employer that this clinical date could come at a time," she said.

Lang says she expected that by now, she would have graduated, started applying to jobs and moved out of her parents' house.

"It definitely was like a visual plan that I had that I wanted to start finding that kind of stuff," she said.

"Everything's just on hold and you don't know when things are going to go back to normal."