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St. Albert teens desperate for work face summer job drought

Youth unemployment rate on the rise across Canada

Seth Jorven wants to start building a resume and to earn enough money to get a taste of a life lived independently from his parents.  

The 16-year-old St. Albertan has been seeking a job for over a year. He said he can’t count the number of jobs he’s applied for, but he’s landed only one interview – and they didn’t hire him.

“I'd like to not have to ask people for things anymore,” Jorven said. “I’d like to be able to do things myself and go places myself without the need to have someone with me.”

Time is starting to run out for Jorven to take advantage of a used car that he was gifted and that he and his brother fixed up together, a gift that Jorven hopes would give him more independence.

By the end of the month, Jorven needs to start paying half the insurance on the car, and he still isn’t closer to finding a job than he was when he started looking a year ago.

He said he'd take a job doing "anything, unless it's super dangerous."

“I think it's that …  there's so many people applying and they can't pick everyone, right?” he said.

Statistics Canada findings released in May show that Canada’s unemployment rate for youth between 15-24 rose 2.9 percentage points to 12.8 per cent between April 2023 – April 2024.

It’s the highest the youth unemployment rate has been since 2016, excluding the COVID-19 pandemic dip of 2020 and 2021.

According to the Government of Alberta’s employment dashboard, Alberta’s employment rate is the highest of the provinces at 64.3 per cent.

But in the 15-24 age bracket, Alberta has the third lowest employment rate at 53.8 per cent, ahead of only Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador.  The 53.8 per cent figure is for June and is the most recent available data, but it’s a drop from May when the youth unemployment rate was 55 per cent.

There were 32,000 fewer retail and wholesale jobs in Alberta in 2024 compared to last year, according to data from ATB Financial. That’s a drop of nine per cent in a sector where many teens find work.

In February, the Gazette reported that St. Albert’s entry level job market was flooded with applicants.  

Employers told the Gazette that they had been receiving up to 50 applications within one day of posting an ad for an entry-level job.

Owen Colwell knows what it’s like to be one applicant in a large pool of candidates with similar qualifications.

And he feels like he’s at a bit of a disadvantage in St. Albert’s job market.

Many places won’t hire under 16, and Colwell doesn’t turn 16 until the end of the month, jeopardizing his plans to buy a gaming computer.

“I guess it’s just not trusting teens,” said Colwell, who has applied for about 10 jobs with local businesses.

Last summer he made some money mowing lawns, but it can be hard to find customers, and he’d like to get his first paycheque from an established business.

“A lot of the places that I've tried to apply to, I've tried to walk in with a resume, and they will say to apply online, but when I go to online, they don't have any positions open,” he said.

Most of Colwell’s friends who have found jobs got work from their parents or family friends.

Marko Balaban, 15, said his employed friends have gotten lucky the same way – through connections.

He’s been applying for jobs since last August but hasn’t yet landed an interview.

“Nobody really wants anybody that doesn’t have experience,” Balaban said.

Job hunt tips for teens

Canada’s population boom has created a more competitive job market, said Tim Lang president and CEO of Youth Employment Services, a country-wide organization that helps young people find jobs.

Young people face the harshest consequences of increased competition.

“If an employer has someone who's got lots of experience, they take them over the youth,” Lang said. “Then it goes back to the old unfortunate adage that is, ‘How do I get experience if you won't give me experience?’”

More companies are asking for applicants to submit resumes online, another barrier to entry for youth with little or no job experience who have a hard time crafting a resume that stands out, he said.

Lang recommends that youth take the extra steps to call a hiring manager or to drop off a resume in person, even when employers ask for resumes to be submitted online.

“It’s so you can separate yourself from the pile,” he said.

“Take advantage of all the free resources,” Lang said. “There are organizations like Youth Employment Services in every town, in every city, that are free and can help you improve your resume. When people are glancing at so many, you want it to pop out.”

He recommends that young people use whatever experience they can muster and tailor it to the job application – whether that is using a babysitting gig to show you’re good with kids or using work cutting lawns to demonstrate that you’re good with landscaping and physical labour.  

“The final thing is not to get discouraged,” Lang said. “When you get rejected by 10,15, 20 places, it's easy to get down. Then when you get an opportunity, you're not showing your best self because you’re worried about getting rejected again. So it’s important to stay positive … Almost everyone gets a job eventually.”

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