Preparatory work: Young Edmontonians worry if the local economy will work for them


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Anaiah Talma, 17, did the math.


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To earn a law degree, she has at least seven years of university study and an estimated mark of $ 110,000.

It’s an intimidating number, of course, but the number that worries her even more right now is $ 0.

This represents the success she has had over the past three months in finding a job that will help reduce the burden on her student loans.

Talma was primarily looking for waitress positions, but she also applied to retail stores, malls and big box stores. She applied by email, on websites and in person, to the point where she feels like half the city now has their resume.

Nothing has worked, and she is not alone. Of his friends, only about 20% were hired.

“I really have no idea what’s going on,” Talma told me. “It looks like employers might want us to have more experience, but you can’t get experience if you don’t have a job. “


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To say that Talma’s predicament is representative of a widespread problem this summer is an understatement. And this was certainly brought up by our Groundwork research.

Statistics Canada figures for June showed a lousy unemployment rate of 18.1 percent for Albertans aged 15 to 24 – the highest rate for young people in Canada.

The increase in the percentage is partly due to an influx of young people entering the labor market.

You might think that would come with an influx of jobs, especially since Alberta was the first province in Canada to lift COVID restrictions. And at least for the record, a number of employers seem to be asking for workers.

Yet the unemployment figures and the experiences of young people like Talma suggest a different story. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what’s behind this strange disconnect, but a number of factors seem to be contributing to it.


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On the work side, those with whom I spoke noted a certain mistrust or a certain rigor when it comes to the choice of employment.

Joe MacKay, owner of BGS Career Ventures, said lingering apprehension prompts some potential workers to take a “wait-and-see” attitude – especially among those who have already been made redundant.

“The idea of ​​starting a job, there is a certain worry about, ‘Are things going to stop again? »Will I lose my EI benefits? Said MacKay, whose company teaches job search skills.

Jamie Stewart, with YOUCAN Youth Services, runs an intensive vocational training program for young people facing various barriers including housing instability, addictions, anxiety, depression and other increased mental health issues. during the pandemic.


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“COVID has eaten up the motivation,” he said. “So coming back and committing to full-time work again is tough. “

He said his program has been largely successful in keeping his clients on track through job training and placements. However, among a minority, he has noticed that some resist a more ideal job, or even avoid positions in which they might have to take a bus to work.

As a possible counter-current to all of this, some wonder if federal income supports such as PKU and enhanced EI could now outlive their usefulness, hampering the desire for jobs in the $ 15-20 range. $ per hour.

At the same time, austerity works both ways.

Especially for businesses that have had to close at least a few times, it’s understandable that there could be an aversion to taking on the costs and risks. In practice, this may play on the caution towards the rise of services, the reduction of hiring and the expectation of more experienced candidates who require less training.


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24-year-old Draydon Buksa finally found a small business IT job earlier this year with help from BGS, but it came after several months of failure.

Meanwhile, he couldn’t help but notice that former University of Alberta classmates who took co-op programs while in school were much more successful in landing jobs after graduation. of their diploma. They had experience and connections, while Buksa was hit with trying to sell himself online at a time when most face-to-face contact was discouraged.

Chris Neilson, 17, also believes the reliance on remote applications has hampered his efforts to find entry-level jobs in food service or grocery stores. He’s still looking.

“Managers don’t have the chance to meet you and test your personality.”


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In Talma’s case, another factor may be old-fashioned discrimination. She now takes off her hijab when she goes to interviews because “I feel like people look at me differently. “

Logic suggests that if COVID cases remain low, business and consumer confidence will continue to improve, more hires will take place, and the youth unemployment rate will begin to decline.

But if the onset of summer is any indication, the process may not go as smoothly or quickly as hoped.

As for what might help the labor market recover in the short term (beyond patience), ideas include additional wage subsidy programs, local buying incentives, more experience programs. work and better mental health services.

Reducing taxes and costs for employers is another option, or trying to get lenders to free up capital, although some believe companies will only use these benefits to strengthen their damaged balance sheets rather than boost money. hiring.


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Ideas abound, but consensus is hard to come by.

Beyond the short term, the other side of the pandemic is raising additional economic concerns for young workers due to factors such as oil prices, climate change and public debt.

There is no room in this column for a full discussion, but it should be noted that many interlocutors I spoke to expressed a belief that they might need to leave Edmonton at some point to realize their professional ambitions. Cuts to post-secondary schools, perceived slow progress in diversification, lack of investment in culture and even a hyper-partisan climate have been cited as contributing to this anxiety.

“There certainly seems to be a lot more opportunity elsewhere, which can make it difficult to stay here,” said Buksa.

Yes, young people do their calculations. Now municipal and provincial governments must do theirs.

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