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Canada’s summer job market for students is booming as positions top prepandemic levels

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Zachary Fortier, news editor at The Link, in the newsroom on Concordia University campus on June 28.Karene-Isabelle Jean-Baptist/The Globe and Mail

After two years of downturns because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the summer job market for university and college students in Canada is starting strong as employers are hiring more applicants and reporting a high number of job vacancies.

Summer job postings have more than doubled across the country since before the pandemic. In early June, they were up by 114 per cent compared with June, 2019, according to Brendon Bernard, a senior economist at the global job website Indeed, who’s based in Toronto.

The retail sector is leading the summer hiring, accounting for more than a third of summer employees. The accommodation and food services sector is second. The rest of summer employment spreads across several industries, including information, culture and recreation, sports and camp counsellors.

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“This is the first time since the start of the pandemic that we are seeing activities return to normal and it shows that it’s really going to be a really hot summer job market,” Mr. Bernard said. “Opportunities for those looking for seasonal jobs are on the increase.”

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In 2020 and most of last year, during the height of the pandemic, the summer job market was weak. Summer camps, tourist sites, recreation centres, hotels and restaurants were closed or didn’t operate at full capacity. University and college students had a hard time finding jobs because of COVID restrictions. Even when jobs were available, students say they were unable to negotiate good deals or find jobs that matched their search.

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Kachi Ezekwem, a fifth-year mechanical and software engineering student at McGill University, found a summer job with the investment bank Morgan Stanley in February this year. In 2020, he didn’t receive any job offers because of the pandemic. Last year, Mr. Ezekwem said, the summer job market was still difficult for students and he only got an offer in May.

“In the field of tech, there are a lot of offers, but they are rigorous and competitive,” Mr. Ezekwem said. “I had many offers compared to last year.”

Zachary Fortier, a second-year journalism and political science student at Montreal’s Concordia University, applied for many jobs for the summer of 2020 and got no offers. Last month, he got an offer as news editor at The Link, a local campus-run newspaper.

“My job is to keep the newspaper running throughout the summer and keep the students engaged with what is happening in the city,” Mr. Fortier said. “So many young people like me have had the same sad experiences during the pandemic. Even those who got offers, it was not what they really wanted.”

Mr. Fortier said pandemic lockdowns had a huge impact on young people, who were not able to find summer jobs or bargain as strongly as they normally would. “What was available then wasn’t necessarily meeting people’s requirements,” he said. “I think there is so much adapting and so many people have to change their methods of finding a job.”

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Sarah Stern, a double-major student in English Literature and European Affairs at the University of Toronto, had no trouble finding a job this summer. “I think there are more jobs now compared to the last few years because of the pandemic,” Ms. Stern said. “It wasn’t difficult for me to find one.”

The increase in summer jobs also means students can choose from a variety of postings and negotiate better arrangements than in previous years. Ms. Stern will be working with the federal government in Ottawa, and she said there were many choices for students and most of her friends have found jobs for the summer. She added that she was lucky to find an employer who agreed to a flexible work mode that will allow her to travel in August.

The rise in summer jobs is an economy-wide trend, Mr. Bernard said, reflecting a surge in opportunities and overall job postings in Canada. “This is a trend that really built up throughout last year into this year, where [the] employer hiring appetite across a whole range of different sectors in the Canadian economy has really increased.”

Mr. Fortier said pandemic lockdowns had a huge impact on young people, who were not able to find summer jobs or bargain as strongly as they normally would.Karene-Isabelle Jean-Baptist/The Globe and Mail

The unemployment rate for students who will be returning to school in the fall is lower than it has been for quite some time. Statistics Canada data shows that the employment rates for returning students aged 15 to 24 increased sharply in May this year, with nearly half – 49.8 per cent – employed. This was an increase from a record low 39.5 per cent in May, 2021, amid COVID-19 lockdowns, and stronger than 47 per cent prior to the pandemic in May, 2019.

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“We are seeing one of the tightest labour markets in recent history,” said Andrew Fields, a senior analyst at Statistics Canada. “There are more youths employed this summer than any other time. We are seeing situations where employers are hiring and report that they have a record of job vacancies.”

Canada’s low unemployment rate of 5.1 per cent has created a record high number of job vacancies. Mr. Fields said this is translating into higher employment rates for young people, whether they are students or part of the general labour force.

Mr. Bernard is optimistic about the strong summer job market this year. However, he is concerned that growing uncertainty about the global economy and stock markets could eventually have an impact on the Canadian labour market.

“While there are jilters in the global economy, the summer job market is a bit more contained,” he said. “The fact that employers are looking for new hires means that people seeking seasonal jobs will be able to find something.”

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