Coronavirus
Education

Northern students coming home to a lack of summer jobs


With summer student and internship programs on hold, northern students hoping to find GNWT employment this summer face limited options.  

The Department of Education, Culture, and Employment (ECE) told Cabin Radio “verbally accepted or signed job offers will be honoured and those employees will be expected to report as of the date in their offer.”

If you don’t have that kind of offer, though, things are different.

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Chris Boutilier is a single parent living in Hay River with daughters Angela, 19, who is enrolled at Mount Royal University taking business administration, and Lisa, 18, who is attending the University of Alberta’s Camrose campus taking environmental science. All three returned home three weeks ago to self-isolation after he went to pick them up from school.

Boutilier says normally his daughters would be working for the rest of the summer, but that’s not an option for them now.

“They are done [classes] and are waiting to do their final exams which are in two weeks,” he said. “Normally they would be gearing up to do like they did last year. This summer they were going to work [for the government] from April to the end of August and save up a lot of money.”

On April 5, Boutilier sent a letter to RJ Simpson, the education and employment minister, with some of his concerns. According to Boutilier, Simpson said the topic has been raised with other ministers across the country.

Even if his daughters apply for and receive federal emergency benefits, Boutilier thinks it won’t be enough to meet the high cost of living in the North.

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“We’re hard up. There’s this relief – which is vague, who qualifies for it – and the bills are the same but the income is drastically less,” said Boutilier.

“My power bill is still over $400 a month and there’s no break from that. We get an extra 100 GB [from Northwestel] but that doesn’t go very far when your kids are doing their classes online and I’m doing all my work online. There’s no breaks for anybody.”

The NWT does say its Student Financial Assistance program will see no adverse effects from the Covid-19 pandemic. Benefits will continue to be provided to full-time, practicum, and co-op students.

“Benefits, including remissible loans, will not be negatively impacted due to Covid-19 and loss of employable income,” said an ECE spokesperson.

Tom Colosimo, the Department of Industry, Tourism, and Investment’s superintendent for the South Slave, last week told Hay River town councillors the issue of summer students was being studied.

“I think it’s critical that, as a department, when we’re looking at hiring our students and seasonals, we ensure first and foremost the duties they can do will be in a safe manner,” he said. “The job they would be doing would have to be relevant, useful, and safe.

“The majority of our full-time people are at home. It would be very hard to hire summer students and then say, ‘Go home.'”

ECE said students returning to the territory who can’t find employment could qualify for income assistance. 

“The income assistance program provides financial assistance to residents to assist with their basic and enhanced needs,” the department stated.

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