Young people forced to get creative as COVID-19 disrupts summer job plans yet again
Workers aged 15-24 lost more than 100,000 jobs in April, suggesting bleak outlook for summer job market
Last summer, Finn Baikie's job mentoring soccer referees was cancelled because of the pandemic.
This spring, the 16-year-old from Guelph, Ont., got hired as a dishwasher at a local restaurant, but, once again, that opportunity disappeared because of COVID-19. The provincial government introduced its latest round of public health restrictions the day before he was supposed to start.
Baikie is among many frustrated young Canadians struggling to make some money during this prolonged public health crisis that risks dragging on into a second summer.
According to Canada's latest job numbers released Friday, employment among those aged 15 to 24 fell by 101,000 jobs in April, with Ontario and British Columbia taking the hardest hit.
It's been a tough time to try to gain work experience and save money, Baikie said. He still hopes the restaurant will reopen once the current restrictions are lifted. And once it does, the 11th grader plans to try to get as many hours as possible.
It's a challenge some of his friends in Guelph are experiencing too, he said.
People applied for jobs earlier than they normally would, he said. There was a big rush, and many have been struggling to find work.
"This would be a time where I'd be experimenting with different jobs and things to find what fits," Baikie said.
But opportunities are difficult to come by.
Traditional summer workplaces for young people in restaurants, retail, hotels and children's camps are still in some level of lockdown in many parts of the country. So competition for the relatively few jobs being posted is fierce.
Among the hardest hit
Young people are among those with the most ground to make up when it comes to lost job opportunities due to the pandemic, said Brendon Bernard, a senior economist with job-search firm Indeed Canada.
He suggests there could be more opportunities in less traditional sectors for teens and young adults, such as construction labour, landscaping and health care.
Emily Doucette of Toronto is one of those young people who has been trying to think outside the box.
"I've definitely been trying to go outside of my comfort zone because I'm just not really trusting the services industry right now," she said. "I'm really hesitant to do a restaurant job right now because I'm scared to get a job, work for a couple weeks, and then be jobless again, and then I'm back to Square 1."
She's been trying to put together several online tutoring gigs.
The 21-year-old worked in retail and as a waitress throughout her undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto, and she expected to start her master's degree in education debt-free.
"I thought, truly, I won't have to get more loans because I'd been working so hard," she said. "I was really proud to pay off the loans."
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But she's facing a steep increase in expenses when she begins paying tuition this fall — to the tune of $14,000 per year.
Last year's government support for students, the Canada emergency student benefit (CESB), isn't being renewed. The program provided $1,250 per four-week period for up to 16 weeks.
Uncertainty for employers as well
Employers are feeling the sense of uncertainty, too.
Geoff Park owns and runs Camp Summit near Squamish, B.C., north of Vancouver.
He said he hopes they'll be able to fully reopen this summer. If the province doesn't allow overnight stays, they'll aim to do smaller day camps.
"We'd be operating at a little less than 30 per cent of what we typically would, if not a little bit lower," he said.
And that means fewer job opportunities for young people this summer.
Park, who also serves on the board of the BC Camps Association, says camps employ more than 70,000 youth across Canada every year.
The country has more than 900 camps, he said, and it's a $2-billion-a-year industry serving more than three million kids.
Almost all of those camps haven't been able to operate at their typical capacity, or any capacity, he said.
"All camps across Canada are still in a very uncertain time, not knowing exactly what we're going to be able to do or if we're going to be able to operate," Park said.
"If we're able to operate, we're going to recover. If we're not able to operate this summer, continued government support is really going to be massively necessary to keep this really important sector in Canada thriving."
Reasons for optimism
Indeed Canada economist Brendon Bernard says there is room for hope.
In the near term, the outlook for youth employment remains subdued, he said, but we've seen that employment bounces back surprisingly quickly when COVID-19 cases start dropping and businesses start reopening.
"If the vaccine rollout can proceed in a timely fashion and is effective at bringing COVID cases down, then there's reason for optimism."