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Summer 2012: It’s not just the weather

Four months with no classes—what’s a university student to do? This week, we asked contributors to commit their summer experiences to paper (or, rather, screen). From reforestation in B.C. to gate keeping with Ontario Parks to a NATO youth summit in Brussels, Dalhousie students sweated, guarded and negotiated their way through the break. Read those accounts, and more, in this series. 

I was always told that going away to school would be a great experience. I would learn how to be independent, make friends from interesting places and see a new part of Canada. I bought into the vision, and I am now hooked on Halifax.

What I wasn’t told before I moved away, or at least what didn’t cross my mind, was what I would do after school ended and summer vacation began.

Usually, if you “come from away” like me, you have two choices: you can find a place to live and pay rent while you work, or you can go home and camp out with the fam for free.

Last summer, I chose the latter.

I had planned on coming home to Ottawa and landing a full-time gig. This would have given me weekends to socialize and evenings to chill. As it turns out, my plan for full-time employment was destined for failure. In fact, statistically speaking, finding a full-time summer job in Canada seems to be getting harder each year. A 2011 Labour Force survey showed that on average, Canadian students only work about 24 hours a week during the summer. Furthermore, a separate study by Statistics Canada indicated that from the summer of 2009 to the summer of 2010, full-time employment dropped from 57 per cent to 52 per cent for students.

Talk about a tough job market.

The search started out slow. I spent almost two months looking high and low for a job, any job, but the drought would not let up. Suddenly, weeks later, I quickly found myself interviewing for and accepting job offers left and right. I ended up with four part-time jobs. I needed the hours, and between the jobs I scraped by with a makeshift full-time schedule.

I managed my jobs by being a demanding employee. I took my availability very seriously and put my foot down, making sure my bosses and managers understood that I had a lot on my plate. I was lucky that two of my jobs were regular gigs, and was able to schedule the remaining two around them.

That being said, it was a stressful summer. I didn’t get to swim, or go camping like I usually do. Some days I would work full shifts at two different jobs with an hour between, so I spent most of my free time travelling to and from work. Commuting sometimes took longer than the workday itself.

Finding a full-time job in the summer as a student is tough stuff. The designated student jobs often get snatched up while some of us are still in the sleepy stage between finishing our courses and celebrating summer. Once that ship has sailed it is off to the races, so to speak. Companies are hesitant to take on students, and would much rather spend their time training people who will stick around. This means us kids have to prove ourselves worthy and willing for any job that comes our way.

My strategy: smile big, no matter how hard it gets.



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