A shrinking federal government has some students scrambling to find summer jobs and co-op placements they need to graduate from university.
Beyond the pink slips and affected notices trickling out of Ottawa to public servants, departments grappling with the austerity budget tabled last month are reducing the number of students they take on.
The main federal program that matches students with temporary jobs received 600 fewer requests from departmental managers in March of 2012 than it did the year before. There were only 1,094 student workers sought last month compared to 1,694 the year before, according to data provided to The Globe and Mail by the Public Service Commission, which oversees the Federal Student Work Experience Program.
“Student recruitment and hiring continue, but at a slower pace,” said PSC spokeswoman Annie Trépanier in an e-mail. She said the recent budget “may mean conducting student recruitment in a way that is more focused.”
Sinan Mohatarem, a master of public service student at the University of Waterloo, said he’s been trying to get a government summer job through the program for months to no avail.
Mr. Mohatarem was originally searching through his school for a policy-related summer co-op placement that he needs to complete his degree. He had a few interviews, but was turned down for some jobs and was told many others were cancelled, he said. When he couldn’t find a placement, he started looking through the FSWEP program for a job.
The Public Service Commission approves paid co-op placements in departments throughout government but they are separate from FSWEP jobs. The number of co-op placements last year and estimates for this year aren’t available yet, according to the commission, but there were 4,810 placements in 2010/2011.
“I think the biggest disappointment isn’t even that you get rejected from a job. It’s that the placement gets cancelled,” said Mr. Mohatarem.
If he can’t find a government job in the next weeks, he’ll rearrange the next year of his degree and try again for a placement in the fall.
At the University of Ottawa, where 60 per cent of placements are with the public sector, director of co-op programs Gaby St-Pierre said the situation is the worst he’s seen in 12 years at the department.
He said many job offers didn’t come in from employers, were cancelled before they were filled or were axed after a student had been matched with them. There are still about 400 students who need summer placements, compared to 260 this time last year, he said.
Business student Ajmal Sataar is in the co-op program and should be lining up a four-month placement for May. The second-year student said he’s applied to dozens of positions in the public and private sector but is now considering working retail for the summer.
“We have no experience so they just pick the [students in the]third and fourth years,” he said. “This year, it’s brutal.”
Mr. St-Pierre said he’s concerned about students who were counting on a summer job’s pay.
The university runs the co-op program for students from arts, science, engineering and other faculties. Many are placed with the federal government because of the university’s ties with the National Capital Region, Mr. St-Pierre said.
“[We]might have been too dependant on the federal government, they were a very good supplier of good experience for students,” he said. “Now they’re pulling out and we’ll have to see how we can find other quality work experience for our students.”
Outside of Ontario, at Vancouver’s Simon Fraser University School of Public Policy, there hasn’t been a decrease in students finding placements, said director Nancy Olewiler. The only blip has been one student being told a federal job offer may be retracted, she said, adding the student found another placement.
Youth jobless rate double the national average
The unemployment rate for youth is almost double the national average for all Canadians.
Employment for people aged 15 to 24 increased slightly in March, lowering the youth unemployment rate to 13.9 per cent, according to Statistics Canada. But it was still well above the national average of 7.2 per cent.
In last month’s federal budget, the Conservatives pledged an extra $50-million over two years to the Youth Employment Strategy, which gives funding to employers to assist with hiring unemployed or underemployed youth.
However, the government came under fire for axing the volunteer program, Katimavik, which sends youth across Canada to work in various communities.
Ahead of the budget, the federal Human Resources department shutdown student employment centres that operated every spring for four decades. The government said the same services could be offered online.
Although there were slight increases in employment last month, the number of youths working hasn’t changed much since the last labour market downturn in July 2009, Statistics Canada said in its most recent Labour Force Survey.