Toronto businessman Elvis Mrizi is keeping his fingers crossed that after two years of struggling through COVID-19 he’ll finally be able to find students willing to work this summer.
“I am hoping that this summer is going to be a better one, as in things are going to start moving towards what many consider normal,” said the owner of a Booster Juice franchise and a camp catering to international students.
Mrizi has turned to Youth Employment Services for help because of the challenges in finding people willing to work, even for the few positions he’s had to fill during the pandemic.
During the pandemic, he said, prospective employees could fall back on government assistance programs and some asked to to be paid in cash, which made it hard to hire. Now he’s worried that students will be put off by the minimum wage he says is all the beverage store can afford to pay.
“It’s so hard to find people who actually want to work … who are committed to work and actually are willing to pull up their sleeves and do work,” he said in an interview.
Mrizi may not be alone in the struggle to fill positions as employers face a battle for talent in what’s expected to be the best summer in about four years.
The outlook for student jobs appears bright despite supply chain challenges, with the Omnicron variant receding and governments lifting COVID restrictions in the face of high vaccination rates.
As of Feb. 11, Canadian job postings on Indeed were up 62 per cent from the same time in 2020.
“That’s reflecting just strong demand across a whole range of areas of the economy and it’s showing up in the summer job posting numbers that we’re tracking as well,” said Indeed senior economist Brendon Bernard.
He said the number of summer job postings is higher than they typically are at this point in the season.
“It’s definitely more of a jobseeker’s market than it has been in some time.”
That allows students to hold out for better wages or take advantage of opportunities that better suit their interests or career goals, Bernard said.
Retail is a big sector for summer employment. While many of the summer hires this year will work in stores, a longer term employment challenge is an acceleration of the shift toward e-commerce during the pandemic.
The growing gig economy is also creating student employment opportunities. But these are often part-time positions, which force youth to work two jobs to make ends meet.
Toronto student Josh Donboka, who is looking for a summer job in retail, says the mood among his peers is positive heading into the main money-earning months of the year.
He said Toronto’s youth employment service is helping him through the hiring process and making the process simpler.
“I want to get a job for a bit so I can just make money to help afford some equipment that I want to make music,” said the 16-year-old Grade 11 student.
“I’m hoping that I’m able to find one and just work there for a bit.”
Recreation, including summer camps, is another key segment of the student summer job market.
After two years of challenges, including the shuttering of all sleep-away camps in 2020 and a delayed start last season, employers are ramping up in anticipation of a much more active summer, said Joy Levy, executive director of the Ontario Camps Association.
“Many of our member camps are near to closing camp registration because their registrations are full. They have wait lists,” she said in an interview.
Levy said the success of camp registration is tied to families wanting to get back to a traditional summer pattern.
Finding staff has always been a challenge for camps, which on average employ 15,000 people at 450 accredited Ontario Camps Association members, she said.
Still, the forced closures have taken a toll with some camps closing permanently and others “hanging by every last thread.”
Success this summer is contingent on avoiding another wave of the pandemic because recreation and summer entertainment can’t operate normally if people stay home and activities are severely restricted.
Youth unemployment, which skyrocketed after the pandemic struck, is trending lower. It peaked at 42.1 per cent in May 2020, the highest rate since comparable data became available in 1976, and up from 10.8 per cent a year earlier, says Statistics Canada.
The federal government is also trying to help employers with 50 or fewer full-time employees to create up to 100,000 jobs through its Canada Summer Jobs program, a 40 per cent increase from pre-pandemic levels.
Tim Lang, president and chief executive officer of Youth Employment Services, is optimistic that the summer of 2022 will be the best since 2018.
“The good news is anyone who really wants a job can find a job because there’s open positions. And so we expect that the levels will be back to a prepandemic situation,” he said in an interview.
Rising costs have prompted some employers to offer a bit more money to attract workers and minimum wages will be increasing in several provinces and range between $11.81 in Saskatchewan to $16 in Nunavut. Ontario’s wage rose to $15 per hour on Jan. 1 while Quebec’s is increasing to $14.25 per hour on May 1.