Tiolúwani Aderibigbe recently finished an undergraduate degree in global development at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.
While the 22-year-old previously had summer placements the last two years, this year there are no jobs open in her field that she can find, even with a degree. It’s likely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she says.
Aderibigbe says she’s lucky to be able to live with her parents in Hamilton, Ont., while she continues the job hunt. She’s hesitant to take a job in a grocery store or as a delivery person out of concern for her parents’ safety.
“Employment for me at this time would be nice so I can get back up on my feet again. But I do have support if I’m not able to,” she said.
Planning too far ahead when there is uncertainty for students and recent grads due to the pandemic, might be unwise, she explained.
Aderibigbe is one of many students who are facing critical disruptions to their employment prospects.
New data from Statistics Canada has found these concerns are widespread.
A crowd-sourced survey of over 100,000 students conducted by Statistics Canada between April 19 and May 1 found students are facing a myriad of stressors during this time due to the pandemic.
Initial results released on May 12 found that along with issues to do with online classes, employment prospects and finances, students are also worried about whether online education will be considered valuable in the working world.
Employment possibilities have dwindled
The survey found that one of the largest impacts of the pandemic on students is whether or not they are able to keep their career goals.
Students are also more likely to hold less secure jobs in industries most impacted by COVID-19, including accommodation or food services, according to StatsCan.
For students who initially reported they had a job lined up after their academic term ended, 31 per cent ended up losing their job and 40 per cent had their job start date delayed. Only 13 per cent said their job was still in place.
These findings are in line with the Labour Force Survey which found the employment rate for students aged 20 to 24 was down to 29.8 per cent in April, from 52.5 per cent in February.
Students also reported feeling anxious about the state of future employment and the economy overall.
Fifty-eight per cent said they were very or extremely concerned about losing their job prospects in the future and 67 per cent said they worry they won’t be able to find a job in the near future.
Heron Yin, an accounting and economics major who just graduated from Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont., says he is one of many who are extremely worried their job placements will be cancelled.
In fall 2019 Yin, was offered a full-time job as an accountant at a firm in Toronto for September 2020. He says even though the job is months away, he’s concerned it could be cancelled.
“Everyone is panicking and everyone’s nervous about offers being rescinded. So we’ve been checking online a lot and we’ve been reading a lot of stuff about layoffs, offers being cancelled,” he said.
Students are using platforms like Reddit to keep track of which businesses are pausing job offers or cancelling them outright to keep everyone informed, he said.
“It’s obviously a very stressful time even for the ones who have an offer,” he said. “But at this point, there’s no point of thinking about it too much, because it’s obviously out of my hands.”
‘Take a chance on students’
The data presented in the StatsCan survey isn’t a surprise and schools and governments need to continue to work on innovative approaches to how they can support students at this time, said Kalin McCluskey, the executive director of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA), an advocacy organization for post-secondary students.
The federal government introduced the Canadian Emergency Student Benefit (CESB) on April 22 for those who do not qualify for the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit.
While that has been helpful, many students are still falling through the cracks, particularly international students, said McCluskey.
Even after the CESB announcement, 61 per cent of students surveyed still reported they felt concerned about using up their savings to cover expenses, the StatsCan report found.
“We are hearing concerns from students about their work, whether it’s over the summer or for those who’ve relied upon part-time employment throughout their studies, what will that look like?” said McCluskey.
“The other concern we are hearing from students is about their work and it being safe, some are taking opportunities and don’t feel safe to take them due to COVID-19.”
What needs to be done now is to ensure students know what supports are available, she said. For instance, the Canadian Revenue Agency is advertising on social media to encourage students to sign up for an account so they can access the CESB immediately when applications are open, she added.
Another piece is students’ mental health during this time and having access to resources there. CASA’s website includes a page of contacts if they need that help at this time, she said.
For employers right now, McCluskey says she would like them to recognize that students are ready and eager to work during this time and have many skills to offer.
“We would want employers to take a chance on students for those who are hiring,” she said. “Students are well-poised to join the workforce. They’re eager to work and they want to contribute. And we hope that employers will keep them in mind.”
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.
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