Student Summer Job Centres to be Axed by Ottawa- Toronto Star- March 1, 2012
By Dana Flavelle
Hundreds of summer student job centres run by the federal human resources department will not open this spring for the first time in nearly 40 years.
The department is quietly axing the centres, saying more students prefer to use the Internet to search for work, a ministry spokesperson confirmed Wednesday.
The moves come as the youth unemployment rate continues to hover around 14.5 per cent, nearly double the average jobless rate for all Canadians.
The centres themselves were a source of jobs as each employed two or three university students as summer staffers. There were up to 100 such centres in Ontario and more across the country.
Also, the main federal online job site, called job bank, has been down for two weeks due to a security breach, a problem affecting job seekers of all ages, not just youth, as well as employers.
“It’s ironic that (Human Resource Minister Diane) Finley would suggest students want more online resources and the job bank is down,” said Linda Fossett, a 59-year-old resident of the City of Kawartha Lakes, who has been frustrated with the lack of online service.
The department is working around the clock to fix the problem on the web and expects to have the jobs site back up within days, spokesperson Alyson Queen said in an email.
The Canadian Federation of Students, which represents more than half a million students at 80 colleges and universities, said the decision to cut the summer youth employment centres is worrisome.
“Students are facing increasing challenges,” said the federation’s national chairperson Roxanne Dubois. “We’re going into debt to pay very high tuition fees and we’re facing very high unemployment rates compared to the overall population. And we’re right in the time period when people are looking for jobs.”
Although many large employers, especially in big cities, post their job openings online, students in smaller communities face a bigger challenge finding work, said Jessica McCormick, who worked in one of five Service Canada Centres for Youth in Cape Breton last summer.
“The students I worked with most often were people who had barriers or were from low income households. They really appreciated the human contact,” said McCormick.
Instead of opening the centres this year, human resources said it would beef up the online resources available to students at youth.gc.ca.
The site directs students to a variety of resources including the government’s own job bank and student job bank.
However, both job banks have been unavailable for two weeks due to an unspecified security breach. Five employer accounts were affected out of the over 135,000 in the system, the human resources department said. Affected employers as well as the Office of the Privacy Commissioner were contacted immediately.
Fossett said the federal job bank is the only source of online job postings in rural areas, like Kawartha Lakes, which has one of the highest unemployment rates in Ontario. The area, northeast of Toronto, has Lindsay at largest centre.
“It seems to me rather wrong that we don’t have good enough security on the government of Canada websites,” Fossett said.
Opposition critics said the outage comes at a time when other cuts to the department’s service have created a backlog of people waiting for unemployment cheques.
“The minister is saying they’re automating to preserve service and yet your automation is clearly not working and people can’t use it,” said Jean Crowder, the human resources critic for the federal New Democrats and MP for Nanaimo-Cowichan.
Finley announced Jan. 27 that the department would be beefing up its online resources but said nothing about the centres closing.
The department is now saying the number of students visiting the seasonal Service Canada Centres for Youth in person had “decreased significantly over the last few years, making them less effective and relevant for today’s youth,” spokesperson Queen said in an email. “By enhancing the online features on youth.gc.ca, there is no longer the need for these seasonal, temporary locations to be established.”
The move, which comes as Ottawa pushes departments to cut costs, is expected to save the department $6.5 million a year, according to reports.
The program started in 1968 as a pilot project to help students and employers across Canada fill their summer employment needs.
The service was free. Most centres were open from May to August, but some in Ottawa, Winnipeg, London, and Windsor were open all year.