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

Just Posted

Parking time is to be limited in one spot on 9th. (Houston Today photo)
District seeks grant to update bylaws

And decides on 15-minute parking

Bench installation on 9th Street is another sign the project is nearing completion. (Houston Today photo)
Progress being made on 9th Street finish

District aiming for June completion

File photo
Mental health checks proving valuable

Police officer and nurse team up each week

The two billboards for the Cow Moose Sign project arrived in Topley last week with Justin Cradock, owner of Pitbull Trucking Ltd. and the area is now getting prepared for installation. (Dan Simmons photo/Houston Today)
Cow Moose sign project billboards arrive in Topley

Two billboards for the Cow Moose Sign project have arrived in Topley… Continue reading

File photo
Snow clearing changes would cost money, survey finds

Council being asked to give direction

A prowling coyote proved no match for a stray black cat who chased it out of a Port Moody parking lot Friday, May 14. (Twitter/Screen grab)
VIDEO: Little but fierce: Cat spotted chasing off coyote by Port Moody police

The black cat is seen jumping out from under a parked car and running the wild animal out of a vacant lot

White Rock’s Marine Drive is being restricted to single-lane one-way traffic to allow more patio space for waterfront restaurants, with indoor dining restricted from the end of March to some time after the May 24 weekend. (Peace Arch News)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate falls to 411 cases Tuesday

360 people in hospital, up slightly, two more deaths

The Banff National Park entrance is shown in Banff, Alta., Tuesday, March 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Minister asks Canadians to camp carefully in national parks as season starts

Kitchen shelters in Banff National Park closed, trails on Vancouver Island will only be one-way

Names of those aboard the ship are seen at Komagata Maru monument in downtown Vancouver, on Tuesday, May 18, 2021. The City of Vancouver has issued an apology for its racist role in denying entry to 376 passengers aboard a ship that was forced to return to India over a century ago. Mayor Kennedy Stewart says discrimination by the city had “cruel effects” on the Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims aboard the Komagata Maru, which arrived in Burrard Inlet on May 23, 1914. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver mayor says sorry for city’s role in turning away South Asians in 1914

Kennedy Stewart has declared May 23 as the annual Komagata Maru Day of Remembrance

A crew of WestCoast WILD Adventures employees tackled an onslaught of litter left at the ‘Locks of Love’ fence at Wally Creek on May 2. (Anne-Marie Gosselin photo)
Litter woes consume popular ‘Locks of Love’ fence on B.C.’s Pacific Rim

Popular view spot near Tofino plagued by people hanging masks and other unwanted garbage

Vincent Doumeizel, senior advisor at the United Nations Global Compact on Oceans, as well as director for the Food Programme for the Lloyd’s Register Foundation, pulls up some sugar kelp seaweed off the French coast in April 2020. He was the keynote speaker during the opening ceremony of the inaugural Seaweed Days Festival. (Vincent Doumeizel/Submitted)
Let’s hear it for seaweed: slimy, unsexy and the world’s greatest untapped food source

Experts talks emerging industry’s challenges and potential at Sidney inaugural Seawood Days Festival

Troy Patterson, a Cadboro Bay 15-year-old, got a virtual meeting with B.C.’s environment minister months after he started an online petition calling for construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline to stop. (Jake Romphf/News Staff)
B.C. teen’s 23,000-name Coastal GasLink petition gets him an audience with the minister

15-year-old Saanich high school student and George Heyman discussed project for about 30 minutes

Announced Tuesday, May 18 by Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth, the province added gyms, dance and fitness studios to its list of places where face coverings are mandatory (AP/Steven Senne)
Masks now required at all times inside B.C. gyms, including during workouts

Those who disobey could be subject to a $230 fine

Reinhard “Bud” Loewen of Abbotsford has now been charged with 21 counts of sexual assault related to his massage business. (Facebook photo)
Former Abbotsford masseur now faces 21 counts of sexual assault

Bud Loewen of Bud’s Massage Therapy initally faced three charges

Most Read