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Summer job market for Canada’s students gets off to slow start

By: Morgan Sharp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The summer job season for Canada’s students got off to a slow start in May, Statistics Canada said on Friday, as public health restrictions dragged on in Ontario and were reimposed elsewhere.

There were 38,000 fewer young people aged 15 to 24 active in the workforce, the federal statistics agency said, in part because students did not seek work amid a reduced supply of summer jobs.

“May’s employment trends are cause for concern for career scarring for today’s young jobseekers, indicating to us that governments need to step in for youth,” said Akosua Alagaratnam, the executive director of youth employment network First Work, referring to a possible shortfall in long-term career earnings and advancement.

The student employment rate was lower for female workers and population groups designated as visible minorities.

“Companies and hiring managers need to realize the potential of these untapped labour pools as we look towards economic recovery or else they will be left behind,” Alagaratnam added, referring particularly to young people of colour.

Finding better ways to engage the skills of visible minority workers could boost Canada’s gross domestic product by around $30 billion a year, Royal Bank of Canada said in a report released on Friday that stressed the imperative of an inclusive recovery. 

Total employment among the teenage-to-early-career demographic fell by 27,000, including a decline of 33,000 among young women aged 20 to 24.

Students start summer ahead of 2020 but behind 2019

The unemployment rate among returning students was just over 23 per cent last month, compared with 40 per cent a year ago when much of the public-facing economy was jammed up by the first wave of COVID-19. The rate was 13.7 per cent in May 2019.

Young women have found it particularly hard to retain employment since the COVID-19 pandemic first hit and in subsequent waves as restrictions shutter many of the service industry jobs in which they feature more heavily. There are 187,000 fewer young women in work now compared to March 2020, compared to a loss of 103,000 for young men.

Job losses have largely been centred in service industries, such as accommodation and food services and retail trade, throughout the pandemic. But manufacturing employment also fell sharply in May, with 36,000 fewer jobs in industries dealing with supply chain disruptions, including the global chip shortage that has caused motor vehicle production shutdowns.

Canada lost 68,000 jobs overall in the month, mostly concentrated in Ontario, where ongoing public health measures and a stay-at-home order weighed on hiring, and in Nova Scotia, which entered a lockdown at the end of April. Employment rose in Saskatchewan but was flat elsewhere.

The dip brought the total shortfall since the pandemic to 571,000 compared to under 300,000 in March after a lull between the second and third virus waves sparked hiring.

Almost all of the losses were in part-time work, StatCan said, while also noting almost a quarter of those working part-time jobs in May wanted full-time work.

Ontario had 32,000 fewer jobs in May after shedding 153,000 in April when tighter restrictions were introduced to deal with a third wave of COVID-19 cases. Its stay-at-home order was lifted on June 2, and other restrictions are expected to ease over the coming weeks.

“With Ontario expected to reopen non-essential business in the coming days we expect a significant portion of these losses to be recovered as soon as public health measures permit,” said Conference Board of Canada economist Liam Daly.

He said the May data could prove to be a turning point in the country’s labour market recovery, with vaccination rates rising and various parts of the country starting to ease public health measures.

“There is reason to be optimistic that Canada is moving into a less volatile stage of the pandemic marked by a more consistent pattern of employment growth especially among several badly affected service industries,” he said.

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