CALGARY – Michelle Benz thought she was playing it wise when she returned to school after being fired from the oil and gas sector six years ago.
She completed her bachelor’s degree in Urban Planning from the University of Calgary but is frustrated that the job market in her chosen area has dried up due to COVID-19.
“I had the feeling that I should improve my personal skills in order to assert myself better on the job market – and now I’ve reached the worst job market of my life,” said Benz, who turns 31.
Benz works part-time in a shoe store and part-time in a brewery.
She plans to return to university for a masters degree, but says she can’t afford to do so until next year. She also has to start repaying her student loan soon.
“I’ll be staring at the barrel in six months,” said Benz. “These payments are added to my expenses and I don’t know how to bear that.
“If I could defer payments – if you could give me 18 months (grace) instead of six months – it would take me longer to find work.”
Frank Finley, president of the University of Calgary Student Union, said this year was similar to 2020, when students struggled to find work.
A university poll last summer found that more than a third of students couldn’t find summer jobs and the 12 percent outlook has been canceled due to the pandemic and economic downturn.
“In fact, for many as the pandemic drags on, the economic situation has gotten much, much worse for many,” Finley said.
He said some students are faced with difficult choices.
“People are afraid that they will have to drop out of school. People are concerned about homelessness and being able to put food on the table.
“You are concerned about what the next year will be like.”
Calgary students are not alone in their concerns.
The president of Canada’s Student Union Alliance said he heard from students across the country who were struggling to find work
“It’s a relatively bleak situation at this point,” said Bryn de Chastelain, who attends Saint Mary’s University in Halifax.
“We are still seeing a significant impact in the tourism and retail or service sectors, and they tend to have a lot of students working to make ends meet. It’s definitely a national problem, ”he said.
“The biggest concern I have is for students who are halfway through or nearly completing their degrees and who are really struggling to get to that finish line because of financial difficulties.”
De Chastelain said the federal government helped by setting the interest rate on the federal portion of student loans at zero percent. However, he suggested freezing student loan repayments like last year.
“It gave (students) the opportunity to focus more on their immediate financial situation and really get under their feet before they start thinking about paying off debts.”
According to the federal government, more than 150,000 positions are available through Canada Summer Jobs, allowing young people to apply in a variety of fields. The program gives employers the flexibility to hire full or part time.
“You have faced a unique set of challenges from the start and must continue to be at the center of Canada’s recovery,” Youth Secretary Bardish Chagger said in a statement.
Finley said the Alberta government should restore the summer fixed-term employment program, which provides wage subsidies to employers. It was dropped in 2019.
Alberta’s Minister for Education said he understood that the job market was tight.
“Years of economic decline and the restrictions associated with COVID-19 have limited job opportunities for many Albertans, including college students,” Demetrios Nicolaides said in a statement.
He said the provincial government launched the Alberta Jobs Now program, which grants employers on-the-job training grants.
This Canadian press report was first published on May 1, 2021
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Bill Graveland, the Canadian press