For the first time since it was established in 1972, the Summer Temporary Employment Program has been indefinitely suspended.
STEP offered thousands of students employment opportunities at many different organizations across Alberta.
In summer 2012, STEP had an operating budget of $7.1 million, providing over 3,000 students temporary summer jobs at many small businesses and non-profit organizations that wouldn’t have had the funds to hire students otherwise.
To participate in STEP, students had to be at least 16 years of age, residents of Alberta and had to work between 30–40 hours per week. The tasks for the positions had to go beyond everyday operations at each organization.
The Alberta government cut funding for the program as part of the 2013 budget.
The youth unemployment rate in Alberta is 7.8 per cent, lower than the national average of 13.5 per cent, youth being defined as people aged 13–24. The Alberta government has stated in the budget announcement on March 7 that Alberta’s students will still find employment opportunities as the economy continues to thrive.
According to Alberta Ministry of Human Services communications officer Greg Kuzniuk, STEP’s funding has always been renewed annually.
Kuzniuk said the funds will now be allocated to help Albertans in need and to develop new strategies that will include permanent employment for Alberta’s students.
“For budget 2013, Human Services placed its funding priorities on helping those in greatest need, those being vulnerable Albertans, including children at risk, adults with disabilities and the homeless,” said Kuzniuk.
University of Calgary Students’ Union vice-president external and chair of the Council of Alberta University Students Raphael Jacob said it was disappointing to see STEP’s funding cut.
“STEP is a relatively inexpensive program, and has proven to be very effective for students,” said Jacob, who has worked two STEP funded jobs in the past.
Jacob said that in the grand scheme of things, the $7.1 million that STEP costs is a small amount compared to the total $38 billion dollar budget for 2013. He said STEP integrates more people into the workforce, increasing taxation, which in turn brings money back to the government.
Jacob said the government cut the program funding because they want to find more permanent employment solutions than what was offered through STEP.
“They were likely going to scrap the program either way. The government would like to have a new program that brings more meaningful employment opportunities that integrates the workers into the field they will be working in in the future,” said Jacob. “I do understand why that could be a benefit, but until we do see that new program, it will be a bad deal for students.”
An independent radio station in Calgary CJSW had two STEP funded positions for several years. CJSW also used funds from Canada Summer Jobs, a federal summer employment program to fund summer positions.
According to CJSW station manager Myke Atkinson, STEP offered students a chance to work interesting jobs that added to their student experience.
“With the STEP program gone, it’s basically going to mean fewer cool jobs,” said Atkinson. “If you want to dig ditches for a summer, there’s enough of those jobs around. If you want a manual labour job, that’s fine. If you want a job that’s going to give you experience towards where you want to go after you’re done university, those are the jobs that are going to be lost without STEP.”
Atkinson said it will be difficult for students and organizations who were counting on STEP funded positions for this summer.
“It’s a real loss for the students. It’s going to be the experiences that you did during university that will set you apart,” said Atkinson. “It’s also going to be a really hard summer. Where are all those jobs going to go?”
Fourth-year U of C political science and history student Cailean David worked at CJSW for two summers through funding provided by STEP and Canada Summer Jobs. He said STEP was a beneficial program.
“It’s a bummer that the program is closing. The program seemed to be established to provide an opportunity for young students to get a career in a position that was not usually well paying,” said David.
David also said that the organizations that offered STEP positions will be negatively affected because they will be losing valuable workers.
Other organizations offer student employment through the summer months, such as the Canada Summer Jobs and the Canada-Alberta Job Bank.