Summer looms for Edmonton post-secondary students struggling to find work

·3 min read
Kody Shawga, left, and Cole Benson are students at NAIT and MacEwan University, respectively. Both say they have had a hard time finding job opportunities for the summer. (Supplied by Kody Shawga and Cole Benson - image credit)
Kody Shawga, left, and Cole Benson are students at NAIT and MacEwan University, respectively. Both say they have had a hard time finding job opportunities for the summer. (Supplied by Kody Shawga and Cole Benson - image credit)

Finding summer jobs has been so tough for some Edmonton post-secondary students that they are considering staying in school to keep receiving income from student loans.

According to Statistics Canada, youth employment was "severely impacted" by the pandemic and the effects on youth employment may last for years.

For Kody Shawga, an accounting student at NAIT, spending the summer relaxing is not an option.

"I'm doing school over the summer because if I didn't have my student loans coming in, I wouldn't be able to pay rent," she said.

Shawga, one of three post-secondary students who spoke to CBC Edmonton's Radio Active about their summer job prospects on Thursday, said her job hunt this semester has been disappointing.

Other students are experiencing the same struggle.

Cole Benson, an anthropology student at MacEwan University, said most of the job opportunities he sees are located in other provinces.

Factoring in the cost of moving, "that doesn't really work for me," he said.

Like many students last year, Benson lost his job last summer during the pandemic.

Rising tuition fees

At the University of Alberta, tuition has risen by seven per cent over the last two years, and starting in the fall of 2022, students in some programs could see tuition increases of 17 to 104 per cent.

"I volunteer at the Campus Food Bank, and so I know how much the rising cost of tuition hits students every time that it goes up, especially when they can't find summer jobs," said Chris Beasley, a political science major at the U of A.

Like Shawga and Benson, Beasley said he has also struggled with this year's summer job hunt and is now looking for positions that start later in the summer.

Federal aid coming

In the recent budget, the federal government pledged more than $5.7 billion over the next five years for education, student loan debt relief and employment opportunities for youth.

Richard Flank, who manages the Road to Work program for the non-profit YOUCAN Youth Services, said he predicts the investment will more than pay off in the long run as young people find careers and contribute more to the economy.

In the meantime, he said, vulnerable youth in particular need help paying for job training.

"It is quite expensive to get all of the tickets and certificates you need to go and work on the oil rigs, even to be a server — if you're over 18, then you need ProServe," he said.

Beasley said students were encouraged by the youth-related commitments in the budget.

"A lot of students are hopeful that some of the new things the federal government announced in the budget might make it easier to find jobs in the future or less punitive to be in a place where you have to start paying back student loans," he said.

Future job prospects

Though aid is on the way, students say they are worried about entering the job market without relevant experience in their fields.

"If we can't work and start building our backgrounds, will we be viable applicants when we do graduate and are looking for permanent positions with companies?" Shawga asked.

"It's stressful to think of what the job field is going to look like when we are out of school."