Michelle Benz thought she was playing it smart when she went back to school to improve her chances of getting a new career after being laid off six years ago in Calgary's oil and gas sector. However, after earning a bachelor of urban planning she is frustrated that the job market in her chosen field has dried up due to COVID-19. (Submitted)

‘Relatively bleak:’ Post-secondary students face rising debt and few summer jobs

The president of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations said he’s hearing from students across the country who are struggling to find jobs

Michelle Benz thought she was playing it smart when she went back to school after being laid off from the oil and gas sector six years ago.

She completed her bachelor of urban planning at the University of Calgary, but she’s frustrated that the job market in her chosen field has dried up due to COVID-19.

“I felt like I should increase my personal skills to give myself a better shot in the labour market — and now I’ve graduated to the worst job market in my lifetime,” said Benz, who’s turning 31.

Benz is working part-time at a shoe store and part-time at a brewery.

She plans to go back to university to get a master’s degree, but says she can’t afford to do that until next year. Plus, she will soon have to start repaying her student loans.

“I’m staring down the barrel six months from now,” said Benz. “Those payments are going to be added to my expenses and I don’t know how I’m going to carry that.

“If I could defer payments — if you could give me 18 months (grace) instead of six months — it would give me longer to find more gainful employment.”

Frank Finley, president of the University of Calgary Students’ Union, said this year is similar to 2020 when students struggled to find work.

A survey by the university last summer, he said, showed more than one-third of students couldn’t find summer jobs and the prospects of 12 per cent were cancelled because of the pandemic and economic downturn.

“In fact, the economic situation for many as the pandemic drags on has become much, much direr,” said Finley.

He said some students are facing difficult choices.

“People are worried they’re going to have to drop out of school. People are worried about homelessness, about being able to put food on the table.

“They’re worried about what the next year is going to look like.”

Calgary students are not alone in their concerns.

The president of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations said he’s hearing from students across the country who are struggling to find jobs.

“At this time it’s a relatively bleak situation” said Bryn de Chastelain, who attends Saint Mary’s University in Halifax.

“We’re still seeing significant impacts on the tourism industry and in the retail or service sector, and that tends to be where a lot of students work to make ends meet. It’s definitely a national issue,” he said.

“The biggest concern that I have is for students who are halfway or almost completed their degree and are really struggling to get to that finish line because of the financial hardship.”

De Chastelain said the federal government has helped by setting the interest rate to zero per cent for the federal portion of student loans. But he suggested it should also consider freezing student loan repayments like it did last year.

“It was giving (students) an opportunity to focus more on their immediate financial situation, to really get their feet beneath them before they start thinking about paying down debt.”

The federal government says more than 150,000 jobs are available through Canada Summer Jobs, which allows young people to apply for work in a variety of fields. The program is giving employers flexibility to hire on a full- or part-time basis.

“Since the beginning, they have faced and continue to face a unique set of challenges and must be at the centre of Canada’s recovery” Youth Minister Bardish Chagger said in a statement.

Finley said the Alberta government should restore the Summer Temporary Employment Program that gave employers wage subsidies. It was dropped in 2019.

Alberta’s advanced education minister said he understands the job market is tight.

“Years of economic decline, and restrictions associated with COVID-19, have limited employment opportunities for many Albertans, including students,” said Demetrios Nicolaides in a statement.

He said the provincial government has brought in the Alberta Jobs Now program, which provides grants to employers for on-the-job training.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

College

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A boat caught on fire this morning (May 11) in Port Hardy. (Adam Harding/Port Hardy Fire Rescue Facebook photo)
Fishing boat catches fire in Port Hardy, owner’s quick thinking puts out flames

The incident is a good reminder to always have a working fire extinguisher onboard your boat

School District 85 logo
Fort Rupert Elementary School gets funding from MusiCounts

The $1 million investment will support 95 schools

Agree or disagree with North Island Rising? Write a letter to the editor at editor@northislandgazette.com and we will publish it online and in print.
McQuarrie: Budget meeting drama caused by unruly councillor

It was an amazing and unexpected response to what should have been… Continue reading

The medical clinic building in Port McNeill. (Bill McQuarrie photo)
Medical clinic gives update on health care in Port McNeill

The town appears to be ‘closer to a new and sustainable medical model for our town’

New electric buses are coming to school districts. (Submitted photo)
New electric school buses will drive North Island forward

Travel on electric school buses is smoother, quieter, and healthier than traditional diesel buses

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Homicide team IDs man in fatal YVR shooting as police grapple with spate of gang violence

Man, 20, charged in separate fatal shooting Burnaby over the weekend

Two-year-old Kashius Weme rides at the Steve Smith Memorial Bike Park in Nanaimo on Tuesday, May 11. The youngster’s precocious bike-riding ability is already attracting cycle sponsors. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
2-year-old bike rider on Vancouver Island already attracting cycle sponsors

Nanaimo’s Kashius Weme has a knack for extreme cycle sports

Keith MacIntyre - BC Libertarian
Penticton’s Keith MacIntyre new leader of the B.C. Libertarian Party

The Penticton businessman was voted in by members of the party on May 8

RCMP are searching for Philip Toner, who is a 'person of interest' in the investigation of a suspicious death in Kootenay National Park last week. Photo courtesy BC RCMP.
Man sought in suspicious Kootenay death found in Lake Country

Philip Toner is a person of interest in the death of Brenda Ware

Vernon North Okanagan RCMP reported to 287 mental health calls between Jan. 1, 2021, and May 1. (Black Press files)
‘It’s not the police’s responsibility to deal with mental health calls’: Vernon RCMP

RCMP remind public to take care of mental health and well-being, while better solutions are sought

Thompson Rivers University campus is in Kamloops, B.C. (KTW file photo)
Thompson Rivers the 1st B.C. university to supply free menstrual products

The university will offer the products this September

Fraser Health is using ‘targeted’ vaccination clinics in high-risk areas of the Lower Mainland. (Fraser Health photo)
B.C.’s COVID-19 decrease continues, 515 new cases Tuesday

426 seriously ill people in hospital, up from 415 Monday

A scene from the Schoolhouse Squat from October 2018, where Alliance Against Displacement members and supporters occupied the Rutherford Elementary School site, advocating for people experiencing homelessness. (News Bulletin file)
‘Schoolhouse Squat’ activists get conditional discharge in Nanaimo school occupation

Ivan Donald Drury, Tingchun (Listen) Chen sentenced in provincial court in Nanaimo

The site of Sunfest, Laketown Ranch, will be open for camping this summer. (Citizen file)
Sunfest country music bash won’t be shining on B.C. in 2021

Annual Vancouver Island Festival cancelled due to COVID-19, along with Laketown Shakedown

Most Read