Published Tuesday, February 5, 2013, 11:54 PM ADT
Last updated Wednesday, February 6, 2013, 11:10 AM ADT
It may have been -10C this afternoon, but for students in King’s Wilson Common Room, all thoughts were on the summer season. When it comes to finding work as a student in Halifax, the heat is on.
These 10 or so students were brought together for a workshop on student job search skills, led by Jennifer Coombs of Dalhousie’s Career and Leadership Development Centre. King’s Campus Safety, a working group of the King’s Students’ Union, invited Coombs there to share her tips.
Students in the room quickly made it clear that for them, securing employment wasn’t just about filling time over the summer study break. Participants spoke up about needing these months to contribute to their academic careers and the careers they hope to achieve post-grad.
“I want something to give me experience relating to my degree,” said one student.
“I want to further develop my skills in a second language,” said another.
Some sought paid placements in their field of choice or travel experience to add to their resumés. Some had money on the mind and expressed a need to make headway in their student loan repayments.
Thoughts like these can take a toll on a student’s mental well-being. Organizers say that’s where the event idea came from – it’s just the beginning in a series of workshops designed to address health and wellness issues on campus.
Coombs herself remembers the stress of securing summer employment when she was in university. “It was always a source of anxiety and frustration for me,” she told the students.
Reports on employment statistics from June of last year show only 63.2 per cent of Canadian students aged 20 to 24 had jobs. That gave 2012 the highest national June student unemployment rate since 1977.
While a December StatsCanada report states a total of 40,000 jobs were created nationwide as 2012 came to a close, the Nova Scotia student job scene is still struggling. The report showed almost all provinces saw gains in employment or stayed even; the only exception being Nova Scotia, which lost 5,000 jobs.
Unemployment rates are climbing right alongside rising tuition fees, and in this deep winter peak of student stress and depression, it’s not difficult for work woes to snowball into serious, campus-wide mental health concerns.
But Coombs had a bounty of advice and confidence that with certain “strategic techniques,” students can exhale, focus their goals, and achieve the employment they’re hoping for.
She said the search should be equal parts online research and real-world networking.
“Ask friends, ask professors, ask neighbours, ask former employers,” she said. “You’ll be surprised who people know.”
Halifax’s universities and colleges also give priority to students when hiring for certain summer jobs. Workshop organizers suggested that school websites and government databases be among the first places students look for summer employment, citing FSWEP and Career Starts in particular.
For students like Johanna Pyle-Carter who seek work in specific trades, the search might shift to actively approaching companies and asking them if they’re hiring. Pyle-Carter said that in searching for a welding job, she’s already begun this process with an attitude of “this is what I can do, do you need this work?”
While all attendees claimed they didn’t have serious job prospects lined up at the beginning of the workshop, by the end, some expressed excitement at job opportunities they hadn’t considered before.
Coombs reminded students that their employability depends a lot on their ability to communicate parts of themselves that often go unrecognized: “those lovely skills we all possess, but we never think we do.”
The Career and Leadership Development Centre will host another workshop on resumé building in partnership with King’s Campus Safety next month.
UPDATE: February 6: An earlier version of this story stated that this event took place in the wrong room. It has been changed to reflect that the workshop was in fact held in the Wilson Common Room, a study space on the second floor of King's New Academic Building.