During a year of massive workplace changes, university and college students in Nova Scotia were nevertheless able to secure a record number of co-op placements, according to figures from the provincial government.
In 2021, 861 people took part in on-the-job training as part of their university and college studies, 100 more than last year.
"Employers have really worked hard with us to ensure that we had students employed over the summer in our summer skills program," said Nancy Hoddinott, a senior executive director with the Department of Labour and Advanced Education.
"Employers are still eager to bring youth into their workforce, so that's an encouraging sign."
She credited employers for being willing to accept students and adapt their work environments to keep everyone safe while they were honing on-the-job skills.
"They ... still saw the need to bring youth and new talent in to continue to add to that innovation and that thinking around meeting the needs for the pandemic and meeting needs post-pandemic," she said.
Skills development program adapted
It's not just co-op students who have been able to acquire new skills during the pandemic.
The Nova Scotia government adapted their skills development program to offer retraining or back-to-school supports to people who would not normally qualify.
Employees from sectors particularly hard hit as a result of COVID-19 restrictions — including manufacturing, wholesale trade, retail, accommodations and food services — were no longer required to provide proof they searched for work three months prior to applying.
People who self-identified as Indigenous, African Nova Scotian, from a minority community, persons with a disability or recently-arrived immigrants no longer had to have three years work experience to qualify. Two years in the workforce was enough.
The new rules resulted in 137 people applying for supports. More than 100 of those people were approved.
That's not the way Hoddinott expected things to go when the pandemic arrived in Nova Scotia in the spring of 2020.
"We were worried that we would not be able to really invest and have students employed and getting their work integrated learning experience during the pandemic," said Hoddinott.
'I'm going to have a career soon'
Brooklyn Buchanan was laid off from her job at a local pet store as a result of the pandemic.
The 20-year-old woman from Glace Bay, N.S., said she had hoped to continue working at Pet Smart long enough to train as a dog groomer, but just seven months into the job, she was out of work.
A friend told her how much she enjoyed studying at the Cape Breton Business College and convinced Buchanan to register, with aid from the skills development program.
"I'm really excited to do this," said Buchanan. "It's going to help me so much because I'm going to have a career soon."
The province is paying her tuition and giving her money to buy books and supplies, as well as paying for her home internet connection.
Rebound within skilled trades
Apprenticeship numbers were also up this year, according to the woman who oversees that program.
Marjorie Davison, CEO of the Nova Scotia Apprenticeship Agency, said 153 apprentices came into the system in May 2021. That's compared with 55 apprentices in May 2020 and 98 in May 2019.
"That gives you an indicator of a rebound within the skilled trades that's happening," said Davison.
Hoddinott said she feels optimistic Nova Scotia's economy will recover and people looking for work will find it.
"We know that with some shorter term job losses, [the] Nova Scotia economy has rebounded post the second and third waves," said Hoddinott.
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