By Gloria Galloway
The employment centres for students that have opened every spring for more than four decades in communities across Canada have been cancelled by the federal Human Resources department, which says it can offer the same services online.
The centres began as a Hire-a-Student pilot project in Moose Jaw, Sask. in 1968 and quickly spread to other regions. But the government says they have seen their attendance dwindle in recent years as increasing numbers of young people turn to their computers to find employment between April and September.
The Human Resources department is also under pressure to trim costs as the government grapples with a multi-billion-dollar deficit. The elimination of the centres will save Ottawa about $6.5-million a year.
Human Resources Minister Diane Finley did not actually announce the demise of the network of offices that are now known as Service Canada Centres for Youth. Rather, in a news release issued Jan. 27 , she said her department would be enhancing the tools that young people need to entre the workforce.
Canadian youth have asked for better online access to employment services and the government is responding by bolstering the website Youth.gc.ca [http://www.youth.gc.ca/eng/home.shtml] with resources such as tips on writing résumés and cover letters, Ms. Finley explained. The site also includes a link to the online job bank for students.
When asked about the decision to close the centres, the department said the centres had lost their relevance and young Canadians will still be able to receive assistance in person, all year long, through existing Service Canada locations.
But Roxanne Dubois, national chair of the Canadian Federation of Students, said the move is troubling. The youth unemployment rate of 14.5 per cent is nearly twice that of the general population, said Ms. Dubois. At the same time, she said, students are facing high tuition fees and, in many cases, large debts.
"This is not a time to cut back resources to unemployed youth," Ms. Dubois said. "It is actually a time to invest resources and make sure that, not only are we creating new job opportunities for young Canadians, but we are also providing the services they need to know what those jobs are and to have access to them."
Jean Crowder, the human resources critic for the federal New Democrats, said the reality is that not all young Canadians have ready access to high-speed internet. And the student jobs centres, she said, helped young people learn how to sell themselves to employers.
"Online is fine and dandy but you don't have that kind of interaction," Ms. Crowder said.
Rodger Cuzner, the Liberal human resources critic pointed out that the Conservatives tried unsuccessfully a couple of years ago to end the student summer jobs program by backed away from that plan after a public outcry. "The closure of these offices will hurt students and business operators, especially in seasonal industries," he said.
Meanwhile, the student job bank, like the main job bank run by Service Canada, has been offline for more than two weeks as a result of a security breach [http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/ottawa-notebook/security-breach-shuts-federal-job-bank/article2351482].
When questioned about the outage by Ms. Crowder in the House of Commons on Tuesday, Ms. Finley said: "I can assure you that HRSD are working around the clock so that we can get the job bank back up and running in a secure way just as quickly as possible."