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 medical worker prepares vials of the COVID-19 vaccines, Chinese Sinopharm, left, Sputnik V, center, and Pfizer at a vaccine centre, in the Usce shopping mall in Belgrade, Serbia, Thursday, May 6, 2021. Serbian authorities are looking for incentives for people to boost vaccination that has slowed down in recent weeks amid widespread anti-vaccination and conspiracy theories in the Balkan nation. The government has also promised a payment of around 25 euros to everyone who gets vaccinated by the end of May. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
38 new COVID-19 cases, more than 335k vaccines administered in Interior Health

Interior Health also to start targeted vaccinations in high transmission neighbourhoods

FILE PHOTO
Second doses of COVID-19 vaccine will be available, as AstraZeneca supply runs low: Interior Health

Province expecting large volumes of Pfizer BioNTech as age-based cohort immunization program ramps up

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges all the empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist which is an independent pharmacy during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, on Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C.’s 1st vaccine-induced blood clot case detected in Interior Health

Interior Health also recorded 52 new cases of COVID-19

(Kamloops This Week file photo)
Probe into TNRD spending taken over by federal police unit

Financial Integrity Sensitive Investigations Unit is now reviewing the case

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
Stolen truck found broken down on Highway 97C, Williams Lake suspect arrested near Ashcroft

A security guard first noticed the truck, and thought it looked suspicious

(The Canadian Press)
Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

‘Canada is at the table to help find a solution’

A map showing where the most number of cases were recorded from April 23 to 29. This map, revealing a breakdown of infections by neighborhood, was pulled from a data package leaked to the Vancouver Sun last week (and independently verified).
36 Abbotsford schools flagged for COVID-19 exposures in the last 2 weeks, shattering record

Clearbrook Elementary recorded an ‘exposure’ on all 11 school days

Canada’s chief public health officer is reminding Canadians even those who are fully vaccinated are not immune from transmitting the COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns full vaccination does not equal full protection from COVID-19

Post-inoculation, Theresa Tam says the risk of asymptomatic infection and transmission is far lower but not obsolete

The dash cam footage, taken May 7 at 8:18 a.m. belonged to the driver of a southbound vehicle that recently travelled out of the tunnel. (Reddit/Screen grab)
VIDEO: Dash cam captures dramatic rollover crash on Highway 99

Only one person sustained injuries from the collision, says B.C. Ambulance Services

Chevy stranded on a ledge above a rocky canyon at Mimi Falls near Logan Lake, April 28, 2021. (Photo credit: Margot Wikjord)
Police officer and fire chief team up in risky rescue of stranded dog near Logan Lake

Chevy, a rescue dog, needed rescuing again after getting stuck on a ledge above rocky canyon

Police were on the scene of a fatal shooting in Abbotsford. (Black Press Media files)
B.C. government to give more than $8 million for programs to curb gang violence

221 not-for-profit projects led by local governments and school districts among others will receive a one-time grant

Gord Judson steers his log truck down a forest service road, using two-way radio and call signals to mark his position for oncoming traffic. (B.C. Forest Safety Council)
Planning some B.C. wilderness fishing? Don’t catch a log truck

Remote recreation areas bracing for heavy pandemic pressure

Former University of British Columbia student Stephanie Hale, 22. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff Bassett
Human Rights Tribunal to hear complaint against UBC Okanagan for ‘mishandling’ sexual assault report

Stephanie Hale did not return to campus after the student she alleges attacked her was cleared of wrongdoing

Most Read