TORONTO (CUP) — The federal government is closing job centres that help students find seasonal summer employment, shifting its services online to save $6.5 million a year.
The offices, called Service Canada Centres for Youth, were open temporarily from May from August to offer job-finding advice and career-building tips to youth aged 15-24.
“The number of students visiting these sites has significantly decreased over the years, making them less effective and relevant for today’s youth,” said Alyson Queen, spokesperson for Human Resources and Skills Development Minister Diane Finley. “Young Canadians have told us that they want to access more government services online, so as a result we are expanding our website with more resources to help them find employment.”
While Finley announced on Jan. 27 that services were moving to the government’s youth employment site, there was no mention in that announcement that the centres would be closing.
Diverse reaction has followed the announcement.
“It doesn’t surprise me, because this government has shown its willingness to cut its expenses on the backs of the most vulnerable,” said Liberal MP for Papineau Justin Trudeau, the party’s critic for youth and post-secondary education. “Young people, unfortunately, are easy targets in that sense.”
The centres provided career advice such as resume writing and interview techniques, and were stationed country-wide with about 100 in Ontario alone.
“There might be a good reason to move important aspects of these job centres online, but the other side of it is you probably need, more than ever, good forms of training, coaching and development of skills ultimately to get around the labour market,” said McMaster University political science professor Peter Graefe. “All that is lost when we move things online.”
The shift online comes at a time when unemployment among Canadian youth is 14.5 per cent, according to Statistics Canada — almost double the rate of unemployment in all Canadians.
“We need to be ensuring that youth have access to jobs and that youth have access to services to find jobs,” said NDP post-secondary education critic and MP for Scarborough-Rouge River Rathika Sitsabaiesan. “We should be encouraging our youth to find better employment, we should be providing that support, but we can’t.”
Trudeau said that the issue has been brought up briefly in the House of Commons.
“It came up at one point in question period and [the Conservatives’] answers have been about streamlining, offering the same quality of services, making better use of taxpayers’ dollars,” said Trudeau. “But this is not making better use of taxpayers’ dollars, this is removing investments in young people.”
The federal Conservatives, however, are reiterating the fact that the summer job-finding services will still continue, being integrated into already existing Service Canada offices.
“What we want to be clear about is students will continue to have access to in person service… at our Service Canada offices,” said Queen. “There is no longer the need for these seasonal temporary offices.”
Also repeated by the federal government is the statement that more young people are going online. But according to Graefe, excluding those who cannot navigate the online job market could be problematic, and that while those who know how to move from the online job market to getting a job will do well, others who might not have access or experience with looking for jobs online could be left behind.
“There [are] problems that haven’t been thought of,” Graefe said, adding that if youth use other mainstream online job sites to find work, support for the traditional centres may not be enough for them to stay open.
“It’s a government that’s looking to cut as much as possible, in places that they think people aren’t going to feel it, and let’s face it — youth aren’t going to come out for these employment centres,” he said.