More student jobs: Calgary council votes to restore summer hiring program

Students in Calgary will soon see more job postings popping up. Calgary city council has voted to restore the summer student hiring program, which was cut to nothing in 2018.

Coun. Jeremy Farkas says he supports cutting costs but not at the expense of jobs for young people

The City of Calgary will be exploring how to restore its summer student hiring program to relieve some of the local youth unemployment problems. (Dean Drobot/Shutterstock)

Students in Calgary will soon see more job postings popping up.

Calgary city council has voted to restore the summer student hiring program, which was cut to nothing in 2018. 

The city program cost $2 million in 2016 and $1.3 million in 2017, including provincial and federal grants.

But, following last year's budget cuts, the program was effectively eliminated. 

"I supported a five per cent across the board reduction but what happened to this program was devastating," Coun. Jeremy Farkas told council Monday. "There are many ways for us to cut costs at the city but it should never be at the cost of young people."

Council voted nine to five in favour of restoring the program for this season.

The city says it expects to hire up to 200 people for typically youth-held jobs, such as camp leaders, swim instructors and data collectors, but the formal summer student jobs will role out in 2020.

At that point, Mayor Naheed Nenshi said, the city would have had time to tie its funding to federal and provincial grants that can increase the number of young people hired.

In the last year of the program, 2017, the city hired 100 students under the summer employment program, the city says. The two years before that saw more than 140 hired.

High youth unemployment

The unemployment rate for youth ages 15 to 24 increased from 10.1 per cent five years ago to 13.8 per cent last year, according to Statistics Canada's labour force survey.

For male youth, the unemployment rate changed more starkly, from 11 per cent in 2014 to 16.5 per cent in 2018.

The president of the University of Calgary Students' Union wrote a letter in support of the motion that highlights the challenges students are facing.

"Increasingly, students are expected to have this relevant experience upon graduation in order to get even the most entry-level position," Sagar Grewal said.

A summer position with the city could provide income and some job experience, Nenshi said, whether it's from running the city's seasonal skate parks or taking part in the engineers-in-training program.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi says students can work jobs that are seasonal, like managing skate parks. (CBC)

He said it also may encourage more young people to consider the public sector as a long-term career choice.

"It really is a very nice mix of folks. There are people doing jobs that are seasonal in nature," Nenshi said. 

He said the jobs could be found by back-filling staff on vacation and providing seasonal services.

Not a 'make work' project, councillor says

Farkas said he worded his motion to allow for "restoration as soon as is viable" so staff can research how to fund the jobs, while treating bargaining units with respect and taking time to apply for grants, if needed.

He said summer students receive much benefit from the program but so do city staffers, who say the young people offer fresh perspectives and new skills and educational experience.

"This is not a 'make work' project. Each of the business units must go through a very robust process to justify these positions," Farkas said. 

Councillors Sean Chu, Diane Colley-Urquhart, Jeff Davison, Joe Magliocca and Ward Sutherland voted against the motion to fund summer student jobs. Shane Keating was absent from the vote.

With files from Scott Dippel, Robson Fletcher


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