Risky business

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By Erin Valois

Viktor Korfanty has experienced the collapse of the auto sector first-hand. For the last two years, the third-year aerospace engineering student worked at the Honda plant in Alliston. Last year, the factory was bustling with activity, but this summer, the plant will be silenced – no students will be hired.

“Because the demand for cars has gone down, they’ve closed down production for students,” he said.

“It’s really bad for a lot of students who relied on that income. You made about $12,000 for the year and that could could pay for your tuition.”

In February, Canada lost 83,000 jobs as a result of the economic meltdown – moving the national unemployment rate up to 7.7 per cent. Ontario’s jobless percentage jumped to 9 per cent because of cuts to the construction and real estate industries.

Toronto is the top jobless city in the nation. But even with many companies struggling to stay alive, the student job market has remained relatively untouched.

Ian Ingles, the employment services coordinator at Ryerson’s Career Centre, said their summer work experience fair in February is a good way to gauge the number of available summer employment opportunities.

“There were slightly less exhibitors – a few less, but not a huge difference,” he said. “It’s not really a drastic change.”

The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities is also helping the student job market stay afloat in the economic quagmire. The Ministry provides a summer job initiative that will create 70,000 student jobs this year and employers are given an incentive of $2 per hour wage support.

Retail outlets are another major source of student job opportunities.

Frances Gunn, an associate professor of retail management, said students should look for industries that are still prospering during this time of economic instability.

“This kind of economy right now is referred to as a ‘food and lipstick’ economy,” she said. “Everyone will always buy food and everyone will always buy small treats.”

Gunn said students should look for retail jobs where they already have some knowledge about the industry. Employers can then streamline the training costs because the student has less to learn.

Retailers are also concerned with productivity, she said, so new hires may find they have less hours per week than expected. Also, new workers have no seniority, so she recommends students demonstrate their dedication to the job.

“You have to show the employer that you can be counted on and looked to as a making a contribution because this relates to turnover, and turnover can be expensive,” she said.

If there’s a shortage of work this summer, students can potentially create their own positions. Since 2001, the Ministry of Small Business and Consumer Services helped students between the ages of 15 and 29 start up their own business.

And Steve Gedeon, an entrepreneurship professor at Ryerson, said there is also an internship program that partners with the National Research Council and Industry Canada’s Communications Research Centre. Recent unemployed or underemployed graduates can apply to work on innovative projects within small or medium-sized enterprises. The firms receive $15,000 to help with the cost of the intern’s salary.

Gedeon said entrepreneurship booms when big companies have substantial layoffs, forcing the new unemployed to get creative.

“Nortel goes down the toilet and lays off high quality engineers and scientists – what are they going to do? They’ll say ‘Hey, we don’t want to work for those idiots anymore, let’s start out own business.'”

But Gedeon said students should really consider all their options before they start a business.

“Students live on macaroni and cheese and they don’t have a spouse or child. Why not take a risk? Now is the best time, there’s nothing to lose,” he said.

“But maybe fiver years out of school there will be better opportunities to go out and start a business. I have mixed feelings.”


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