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Canada Summer Jobs grants should be available to all students regardless of age

By Kristy Koehler, October 23 2018 —

Recently, I received an email from a Liberal member of Parliament’s mailing list promoting the success of the Canada Summer Jobs (CSJ) program. While I don’t deny that the program has been expanded greatly through Liberal leadership, I do have one issue with it — eligibility for the program ends at age 30.

Certainly, the argument that young people need opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise get is understandable. There absolutely needs to be protection from employers hiring older, experienced people as cheap labour and denying young people the chance to learn new skills.

But what about those of us who are over the age of 30 hoping to switch careers? What about the young single mothers who have never been employed, but whose children have grown and now have the opportunity to go back to school? They are denied the opportunity to gain experience in their desired field on the basis of their age. Older students need opportunities as well.

The CSJ program should be available to all of us who can demonstrate full-time undergraduate student status, irrespective of age.

I’ve been in the service industry all my life, so finding experience in another field is difficult. I’m no less a student because of my age. As a full-time undergraduate student, I’m making the same commitment to my education as someone younger — perhaps even more because I don’t have the opportunity to live at home. I have bills and obligations, so for me, the choice to go back to school represented a serious financial consideration. 

During the school year, I found an excellent volunteer opportunity in my field of study. The organization received funding to provide summer jobs to students and wanted to hire me. Unfortunately, I did not qualify on account of having just turned 31. My application for an exemption was denied, despite citing my career goals and relevant experience.

A job that would have given me a huge step up in what I hope will be my career going forward was given to someone else on the basis of age. The person given the job was not in my field of study — they were from another academic program entirely, but were able to be used as cheap labour even though they had no interest in ever working in the field that employed them. The argument that employers may try to use older students who are experienced as cheap labour doesn’t take into account the other problems with the program — that employers use the students as cheap labour despite them having no interest in the ‘meaningful work’ promised by the program. This isn’t to blame the employers, especially non-profits who need all the assistance they can get.

The provincial government funds programs for students of any age. The Summer Temporary Employment Program (STEP) is the provincial equivalent of the CSJ program and the Serving Communities Internship Program (SCiP) is a shorter program, specifically geared towards the non-profit sector. However, provincial programs are more expensive for employers to participate in, so many employers only apply for CSJ grants. CSJ covers 100 per cent of the provincial minimum wage for jobs in the non-profit sector, while STEP reimburses only $7 per hour in either the non-profit or private sector.

Still, if the province can fund older students, why can’t the federal government follow suit? CSJ is a program which discriminates on the basis of age. The age limit deprives employers of hard-working, passionate individuals with much to contribute to the workplace. By extension, older students looking to enter the workforce or change careers are deprived of the opportunity to do so.

Proponents of the age limit will say that not finding work will hinder young people’s future employment prospects and makes them a detriment to society. But having many under-employed adults is just as detrimental. Young people still have time. Older students, like myself, are running out of it.

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