Ottawa

Students facing bleak job market this summer

It's the time of year when many university students are on the hunt for that all-important summer job that will help finance their higher education. But in the wake of COVID-19, many are scrambling to find work in a dismal employment landscape.

Pandemic has left university, college students with few employment prospects

Like the rest of the city, the University of Ottawa campus is virtually deserted these days. Students who would normally be securing summer job placements at this time of year say employment opportunities have all but dried up because of the coronavirus pandemic. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

It's the time of year when many university students are on the hunt for that all-important summer job that will help finance their higher education. But in the wake of COVID-19, many are scrambling to find work in a dismal employment landscape.

"Bleak" is the word University of Ottawa student Chris Wright uses to describe summer job prospects for him and his friends. 

The 22-year-old political science student was set to work at a downtown hotel during Ottawa's busy tourist season, but that opportunity has dried up. Typically, visitors from across the country and around the globe flock to the National Capital Region during the summer months, but COVID-19 has pulled the plug on virtually all travel.

"Everyone is still in panic mode with the pandemic, and even after that I don't think anyone's really going to be willing to travel yet," Wright said.

University of Ottawa student Chris Wright had lined up a job at a downtown hotel this summer, but it has fallen through. (Chris Wright)

Anxious about the future

In his Kingston, Ont., apartment, Queen's University economics student Shane Weston, 23, is studying for final exams and feeling anxious about the future.

"I don't know what I'm going to do because nobody's hiring," Weston said. "It just it seems like opportunities are not available right now."

Chanelle Collins, 21, is finishing up her bachelor of arts degree at the University of Ottawa and has enrolled in the school's teaching program next fall. She's been laid off from her part-time waitress job because of COVID-19.

Make sure that they have the financial resources to get back into school when the full semester comes, with or without a job.- Lily Akagbosu, CUSA

Collins had secured a full-time summer government job through the Federal Student Work Experience Program (FSWEP), but last week she received an email stating the program has been put on hold.

Collins said she was disappointed but not surprised, "just considering everything that's going on."

Last year 8,050 students received paid placements and valuable training through the FSWEP.

But in a letter to applicants obtained by CBC, the prospective employer wrote: "Due to the limitations of our current work arrangements we, unfortunately, are no longer able to proceed with our student hiring for this upcoming summer." 

The Public Service Commission of Canada said it's too early to know how COVID-19 will affect the hiring of students across government.

"While in recent weeks student hiring has fallen to less than half the usual rate, concerted efforts are being made to encourage student hiring," the commission wrote in an email to CBC.

Students need financial help

The president of the Carleton University Students' Association said the full impact of this summer's lost wages may not become apparent until next fall, when it's time for students to pay tuition.

"I think the government should definitely prioritize students having the capacity to return to school," said Lily Akagbosu, who represents 26,000 students.

Lily Akagbosu, president of the Carleton University Students' Association, says governments should be prepared to help students who can't find employment this summer. (Miko Gloriani)

Akagbosu praises government programs that provide financial incentives to companies that hire students, but believes in this dismal job market, some students may need direct financial aid instead.

"There is definitely need to really consider what sort of supports are available to our students," Akagbosu said. "I think there could be special benefits or grants."

Akagbosu said she's most concerned for students who don't have other sources of financial support such as family or employment insurance.

"Especially our most marginalized students," she said. "Make sure that they have the financial resources to get back into school when the full semester comes, with or without a job."

Both Wright and Collins consider themselves to be among the lucky ones because they both held part-time jobs throughout the school year, which qualified them for the Canada emergency response benefit, or CERB. Eligible Canadians can earn approximately $2,000 a month through the federal aid program.

"If it weren't for that then I would pretty much be without any way of earning money over the summer," Wright said.

Summer job prospects are taking a hit amid the pandemic, with some students worried about the possibility of trying to pay tuition without the boon of summer income. Lily Akagbosu, president of Carleton University’s students association, University of Ottawa student Chris Wright, and Queen’s University student Shane Weston spoke to CBC News. 2:14

About the Author

Sandra Abma

Journalist

Sandra Abma is a veteran CBC arts journalist. If you have an event or idea you want to share, please do at sandra.abma@cbc.ca.

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