Marcus Renaud had a simple set of criteria in mind when he went looking for a summer job.
“What do I want to do that earns me money, gets me experience – but I can also have a great time and have fun?” he wondered.
When he was offered a job at Canada’s Wonderland helping load guests onto a roller coaster, he knew he had found what he was looking for at the amusement park north of Toronto.
That was last year, and Mr. Renaud, now 18, had no doubt of returning this summer. If anything, the job had become even more appealing after another long pandemic year of so much time spent indoors.
“Nowadays, I’m sure any teenager can attest to this, but we spend so much time inside on our computers playing video games or doing whatever. It’s actually really nice to spend time outside and work outside,” he says.
The teen labour participation rate in Canada has never been particularly high. It peaked at just more than 59 per cent in 1989. It currently stands at around 51 per cent, according to the most recent data from Statistics Canada. That’s up from 43.9 per cent in 2020 and 45.8 per cent last year.
All of which is to say that just about any teenager who wants a job this summer could easily get one – especially in the industries most desperately in need of them, including hospitality, retail and camps. But this is a job seeker’s market, and teens are more discerning than ever, employers and youth employment agencies say.
“People are more choosey,” says Alex Neufeldt, a communications and special projects manager at Youth Employment Services, a non-profit organization in Manitoba. “There’s a certain level of caution about certain front-line jobs.”
Entering the third summer since the pandemic began, that’s not surprising.
Allison Pond, chief executive officer of ACCES Employment, a Toronto-based non-profit organization that last year helped 8,500 young people find work, says health is a top concern for many teen job seekers and their families.
“I’ve heard a lot from parents who are nervous about health and safety,” she says.
If there is another consideration that seems to be just as important for teenagers, it’s flexibility, says Leita Blasetti, community liaison at the City of Calgary Youth Employment Centre, a municipal agency that offers free employment services for people ages 15 to 24.
“Youth have a lot more competing interests these days,” she says. “Some youth want to be able to take summer vacation with their families, or they may only want to be available a couple of times a week.”
Others want to work but are prioritizing summer school, Ms. Blasetti says.
That has left many companies, especially restaurants, desperately seeking staff. Employment in food service and accommodation was 206,000 workers below prepandemic levels as of December, according to data from Statistics Canada.
Ms. Blasetti has been fielding calls from restaurants three hours away in the Kootenays.
Landscaping companies, other sectors of the hospitality industry and summer camps round out the list of businesses having the hardest time finding summer staff, Ms. Blasetti says.
Camp counsellor may have once been a classic teen summer job, but it seems to have lost some of its lustre.
“Everyone is struggling to find staff, both day camps and overnight camps,” says Shauna Joyce, president of the Canadian Camping Association, adding that many overnight camps across the country are increasingly relying on international staffing agencies to fill their ranks.
Some domestic applicants make themselves available only on certain weeks, perhaps because they have summer school or simply want to hang out with their friends, Ms. Joyce says. In the past, camps would find someone else, but now they have to adjust.
“There are more opportunities now,” she says. “We have to be a little more flexible.”
Molly Vegh-Gross found a job at a Shoppers Drug Mart last summer through ACCES Employment, but this year landed a job at the Rogers Centre in Toronto through a co-op program at her school.
“It’s the home of the Toronto Blue Jays. I get to see things I’ve never seen before,” says the 19-year-old, who is working for the Jays Care Foundation, which helps make baseball more accessible for kids.
Perks, whatever they may be, are increasingly a draw for summer staff, human-resource managers say.
Staff at Canada’s Wonderland are allowed to enjoy the park for free in their off-hours, receive complimentary tickets for friends and family, and have access to a scholarship program – all of which helps explain why the park is back to its prepandemic level of applicants, says Susan Edwards, director of human resources.
Perks are certainly a draw for summer staff at Landmark Cinemas, says Geoff Mullback, vice-president of human resources at the Calgary-based theatre chain.
Staff can watch as many movies as they want with a guest for free, and get steep discounts on concessions.
The hours are also friendly for many teens, Mr. Mullback says. “There’s no early mornings at the theatre.”
Some employers might gripe that teens just don’t want to work, but that’s not true, Ms. Joyce says. They are simply more savvy than people give them credit for.
“They’re more aware of self care and setting boundaries and making sure they are fairly compensated for their time. And I think they’ve been taught to ask the right questions, and its forcing us as employers to make sure we’re offering them the quality of work experience they deserve.”
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