Rural groups say new student employment structure leaves them at risk
Labour minister suggests employers who rely on SEED students should 'revisit' business model
Community groups in Port Elgin and Baie Verte are concerned they might have to cut their summer day camps if the Student Employment Experience Development program continues to run in its new format.
The program, known as SEED, has about 2,000 vouchers available for student applicants, provincewide, that are distributed by lottery. Students who receive a voucher can apply to approved businesses and organizations that have half the wages for their summer hires funded by the provincial government.
But what that has meant for employers such as Gail Roach, director of the Baie Verte recreation program, is that she can no longer count on having a summer student to help run her day camps.
"I think the rural communities are really falling between the cracks."
Until the spring of 2016, SEED jobs were doled out by MLAs to the non-profit organizations of their choice. But in the name of "getting the politics out of youth employment," the Gallant government changed the structure to put the onus on the student to apply for a voucher, then find a job in their area of interest.
Normally, 20 kids attend the day camp in Baie Verte, which serves kids between the ages of four and 13.
"We were in jeopardy of losing (the day camp) last year," she said. "So now the fiasco continues. Once again this year we're in jeopardy of losing the program."
She questions how many students in her area received a voucher, because she said no students funded by the SEED program have applied for her job.
But Donald Arsenault, minister of post-secondary education, training and labour, said 50 vouchers were handed out in the Port Elgin area, just east of Moncton. He argues the voucher lottery is fair.
"It's unlimited requests, but a limited budget and limited opportunities that are provided," he said. "So there are always going to be employers who are left without and they all have a great story to tell."
Arsenault said about 6,500 students applied for vouchers this year and said it's up to the employer to attract students.
"If your business model as an organization is all based on having one summer student, well, maybe you should revisit your model."
Val McDermid, who runs a day camp in Port Elgin, said she hates to think of the programs not being available — particularly for low-income families.
"There aren't other things available in our community," she said. "We don't have a swimming pool, we don't have a life guarded swimming program, we really have nothing else in the community and parents are working or or they can't afford the gas or transportation costs so those children don't have any programs to go to."
Arsenault said the onus shouldn't be solely on government to come up with solutions.
"Let's stop being, as an employer, as a student or as a parent, let's stop being selfish for a second and provide me with a perfect model," he said. "I'd be more than happy to sit down with you and look at it and see how we can continue to make changes."
Arsenault said that as of last week, 323 vouchers were left unused. He said if that number goes as high as 400, the government will reissue some vouchers.