Neglecting better paying student jobs programs

Many students just can’t afford to work for less than minimum wage

At first glance, I was pleased by today’s announcement that the federal government was putting more money into a summer jobs program.

Last summer, I participated in a federal program that gave grants to museums and other non-profits to hire students. One of the best things about it was that it opened up opportunities that I wouldn’t have normally considered. I ended up working at a museum for the summer and more recently interviewed for a position with an arts group.

In a tightening job market, I’m glad that I’ve had the opportunity to think about the transferable skills that I’ve developed, not just the skills that are applicable for a specific career.

But then I took another look.

It turns out there are several federal programs, run through different departments, that do almost exactly the same thing.

The main difference? Canada Summer Jobs, the program that featured in today’s announcement, pays people a lot less.

There are a few other differences, the program that I participated in, Young Canada Works, only provides grants to heritage organizations, organizations (including private companies) that work in both official languages and urban aboriginal organizations. So while it may be somewhat more specific, there’s a huge overlap between the two programs.

But while Young Canada Works pays a competitive wage, Canada Summer Jobs only provides funding for organizations to pay minimum wage. There are also several other programs for students who want to work for the federal government. Of course, as you can guess, those programs pay a heck of a lot more than minimum wage. It’s pretty ridiculous that the government is paying such disparate wages for work that, in many cases, is very similar.

I’m well aware that many students are willing to work for cheap, or even nothing, to get their foot in the door but for a lot of students that’s just not an option. As a recent study shows, the majority of funding for university students, at least in Quebec, comes from their own work and even if some of these jobs may be good opportunities, there are a lot of students that just can’t afford to work for minimum wage. A summer of full-time work at minimum wage–with not other costs–won’t even pay for tuition in most provinces.

Maybe I shouldn’t be complaining, with today’s job market I should probably be thankful that the government is helping to create jobs–any jobs–for young people but my fear is that funding for a program like this will come out of the other, almost identical, programs that pay more.