While the federal government has made it a priority to curb youth unemployment in recent months, students are finding it increasingly hard to find jobs within the public service, according to a think-tank.
Kayle Hatt, who authored the report Help Not Wanted: Federal Public Service Cuts Have Hit Student Hiring Hard, said that he believes the federal government is "shying away" from providing opportunities for students amid increasing budget cuts to the public service.
"It seemed that student hiring was one of the first things on the chopping block. When you add it all up, what that means is that there's fewer opportunities for students," he said.
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The report, published by the Ottawa-based Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives earlier this month, shows that summer hiring of students by the federal government has declined by more than one third since 2009, from almost 11,000 in 2009 to under 7,000 in each of the past two summers. Hiring of students during the academic year declined by about 23 per cent.
Hatt said this trend is particularly concerning given that national youth unemployment rates had been stuck in the double digits for years. The annualized youth unemployment rate in Canada for 2013 was 13.7 per cent, more than twice as high as the unemployment rate for those 25 and above.
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Jessica McCormick, national chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students, said temporary jobs within the federal public service are often some of the best opportunities that students can get. The decline in hiring is troubling, especially at a time when many students are facing a job market with limited options for paid work experience.
"It's fairly discourarging and a bit problematic. It would seem that they're more worried about tackling the deficit than ensuring that youth have opportunities," she said.
Rob Shepherd, a professor of public management at Carleton University and vice-president of the Canadian Association of Programs in Public Administration, said students in his program have been having a difficult time finding short-term opportunities within the federal public service for a number of years.
Generally, federal departments will post short-term positions within universities that students might be qualified for, said Shepherd. But in 2010 and 2011, those positions were hard to come by, he said.
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"Students were in a really hard position in both of those years. There just weren't that many positions available," he said.
"Things have improved a little bit since then, but not much."
'Where are you going to get the new blood?'
A decline in opportunities for students raises concerns about the ability of the federal public service to regenerate itself, Shepherd said.
"Where are you going to get the new blood? Well it has to come from programs generating qualified graduate students," he said.
"It looks good to the public to say you're cutting positions. It doesn't look so great when you're cutting students. That never looks good."
In their 2014 budget, the federal Conservatives promised to review the Youth Employment Strategy to better align it with the modern job market, and to invest in interest-free loans to apprentices registered in certain trades, as well as $40 million for up to 3,000 internships in high-demand fields over the next two years.
The Treasury Board Secretariat declined to comment on the CCPA's findings.
A spokesperson wrote that the Federal Student Work Experience Program "provides thousands of students with temporary jobs every year in various federal organizations across Canada."