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Why is it so hard for North Shore students to find summer jobs?

Students home for the summer say they are having trouble finding work in North Vancouver and West Van, writes Carleton University journalism student Ava Parkhill
Bartenders serve drinks at a North Vancouver lounge. Summer students say they are having trouble finiding work, writes journalism student Ava Parkhill. | Andy Prest / North Shore News

Working a summer job is a rite of passage for many students. Here on the North Shore, however, a large number of students say they are finding that seeking summer employment in the current job market is challenging and response rates to applications are concerningly low.

Many post-secondary students, both current and those just leaving high school, have been applying for jobs with little success over the past four months as their summer terms begin.

“I applied to over 30 jobs,” Sophie Tielker said, adding that in three months she only heard back from two employers. “One of which responded months after I applied.”

The University of Western Ontario student, who returned home for the summer, said her main complaint is employers don’t respond, and she has found herself “ghosted” by employers after submitting applications.

“It is extremely disheartening,” she said. “You are left without knowing if your application was seen, let alone evaluated.”

This is despite most applications not being “light work,” requiring applicants to submit supplemental materials such as cover letters, applications and questionnaires, even for simple customer service positions, she said.

Tielker said she applied to a variety of jobs, mainly in hospitality and food service, “all of which I was qualified for,” but continued to hear nothing. Experience isn’t necessarily the issue.

“My resume is not lacking,” Tielker said, adding that she has multiple workplace certifications including her Serving it Right, Food Safe, and First Aid, and has been working since she was in Grade 9.

After a long search, Tielker received and accepted a job offer from Grouse Mountain.

“One of only two employers that got back to me,” she said.

Tielker said she is concerned about how the lack of summer employment opportunities could affect her generation moving forward as they look to find jobs after post-secondary graduation.

“If there is so little opportunity to gain work experience in our university days, what is going to happen after we graduate?”

Will Dunn, another University of Western Ontario student, said he encountered the same issue applying to more than 20 jobs, only hearing back from two employers. One of the interviews he received was due to a connection at that company. He finally began work at the beginning of June.

“I honestly think it was just luck that I got the job,” he said.

There are some stats to back up what students are experiencing as they fire off applications. Economists at RBC predicted a labour market turndown at the beginning of 2024, which took a stronger effect in March. The RBC Proof Point states that “students and new graduates are bearing the brunt of the labour market turndown.”

The Proof Point also states that “the turndown is consistent with past recessions.”

But unlike past recessions, the unemployment rates are taking effect on those trying to enter the job market, instead of those currently employed facing layoffs.

The North Shore has a large population of families with employable-aged children, resulting in the area seeing the consequences of this turndown in full effect. This is evident based on the new employment rates at local establishments.

“I have seen a couple of applicants a day, and we have had to turn them all down,” said Olivia Young, who has been working a summer job at a North Vancouver coffee shop since 2020. “It’s hard for everyone to get hours, but the students who work through the school year have to be prioritized as they are also off school now.”

Young is a student at McGill University, but returns home to North Vancouver to work each summer. She said she is extremely grateful to her employer for making it easy for her to return to work each year.

“The hiring priority goes to the previously employed students,” Young said. “We do not have to be trained again.”

Because of this, training new people isn’t the most valuable use of time in a busy establishment, and if new hires were brought in, hours would be slim for all.

Ava Parkhill is a North Vancouver local, born and raised. She is currently studying journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa. She is an avid skier and sailor, taking advantage of the North Shore amenities. Parkhill is interested in a variety of topics including social politics and human rights.