Eliminated summer employment program a surprise for students

Alberta’s Summer Temporary Employment Program is being axed — again.

Alberta gov't sympathizes with employers looking for ‘free money’ as STEP program is cut

Labour Minister Jason Copping. A spokesperson for the minister said the government is eliminating the Summer Temporary Employment Program because it wasn't an efficient use of funds. (Jocelyn Boissonneault/CBC)

Alberta's Summer Temporary Employment Program is being axed — again.

The STEP program is no longer being funded after the 2019 program is all paid out. And students across the province have been caught off-guard.

Eliminating the program, according to the budget, will save about $32 million over four years. Employers and youth will still be supported by existing programs and services, according to the government's document. 

In a statement, a ministry of labour spokesperson wrote the STEP program wasn't an efficient use of government cash. 

"While we sympathize with employers who were hoping to receive free money in 2020, Albertans elected us to get the province's financial house in order," read the statement. "In this case, other resources are available to support employers and youth."

The statement continues to say the government has taken action on youth employment by introducing the youth wage, where kids under age 18 are paid $13 per hour.

It's a little bit contradictory to the government strategy of … wanting to strengthen educational outcomes.- Hailey Babb, student

University of Calgary Students' Union president Jessica Revington says the move came as a total surprise. The SU meets with their MLA Jason Copping regularly — he's the labour minister.

"So this does come as a surprise to us and we're hoping that there are plans moving forward to involve students and youth in consultation," Revington said.

Revington says now that STEP has been eliminated the SU is concerned there's nothing to replace the gaps in student and youth employment.

"What I would hope to see is that the government work directly with post-secondary institutions that are looking to increase experiential learning or work-integrated learning opportunities on their campus," Revington said.

Rachel Timmermans is a policy studies student at Mount Royal University. She says her program requires an internship, so she turned to the STEP program.

She landed a gig at the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, a non-profit organisation.

"It was invaluable getting to work in the middle of C-69 and C-48 getting passed through the house," said Timmermans. "I got to be involved, understanding how this is impacting Alberta and just getting a lived experience of how the industry works."

Hailey Babb is a University of Lethbridge student. She said she's not only disappointed for students but for small businesses who count on the program too.

"Most students who are in these kinds of programs end up staying on with their employer in some capacity after they graduate," she said. "It's a little bit contradictory to the government strategy of … wanting to strengthen educational outcomes and making sure that we're enhancing the mechanisms that are making sure that students are successful after they graduate."

Program introduced under Lougheed

Originally introduced in 1972 by Peter Lougheed, the program gave a subsidy to municipalities, small businesses and not-for-profits to hire students over the summer between May and August. 

The program has been eliminated before — in 2013 by the Progressive Conservative government and reinstated in 2016 by the NDP government.

The annual budget for the program was $10 million and it employed approximately 3,000 students, with a $7 per hour subsidy for the employers.

Last week's budget hit post-secondary institutions hard with cuts. And students are already concerned because the government's budget is lifting a four-year-long tuition freeze and cutting education tax credits.

And now, Timmermans says this program slash feels like an extra blow.

"It's just like they're shooting us in the knees but telling us to run faster," she said. "I don't think that they realised kind of how we're being hit from every direction."