Top News

CBU offers seasonal employment program for its students to plug growing labour shortage problem in rural Cape Breton

Cape Breton University students involved in the community engagement two-year program that brought students to rural communities around the island to work in areas experiencing labour shortages is to wrap up by mid-October. Each day the student workers travelled by shuttle van to and from their workplaces to places such as St. Peter’s, Dundee, Ingonish, Baddeck and Inverness. From left are CBU students Rahul Luthra, Deepak Singh Dheri, Rujul Bhatt and Tanya, who goes by only one name, participated in the program that was a joint project between the university and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.
Cape Breton University students involved in the community engagement two-year program that brought students to rural communities around the island to work in areas experiencing labour shortages is to wrap up by mid-October. Each day the student workers travelled by shuttle van to and from their workplaces to places such as St. Peter’s, Dundee, Ingonish, Baddeck and Inverness. From left are CBU students Rahul Luthra, Deepak Singh Dheri, Rujul Bhatt and Tanya, who goes by only one name, participated in the program that was a joint project between the university and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. - Chris Shannon

Filling essential roles

SYDNEY, N.S. —

Rahul Luthra’s summer job had him tasked with wading through more than 300 resumés with the hope he could line up students with prospective seasonal employment opportunities in rural Cape Breton.  

Luthra, 21, is a bachelor of arts in community studies student at Cape Breton University. He’s currently working as an administrative assistant for the community engagement program, a two-year pilot project aimed to offer CBU’s growing student body a better chance of landing part-time or seasonal employment.  

“When it started it was a lot of work. We’d come in at 8:30 in the morning and leave at 6 p.m. with no lunch breaks. For a week or two it was a bit hectic,” Luthra said, in setting up the program with students, employers and drivers using vans to transport the student-employees across the island.  

Funding for the program was announced in June. Cape Breton University provided $306,314 and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency contributed $350,000 from its strategic community capacity program.  

Logistics in purchasing four vans from a local dealership, hiring drivers and, most critically, making employers outside the Cape Breton Regional Municipality aware of the seasonal student employment program, meant it only got off the ground on July 29.  

CBU’s director of student affairs John Mayich said when word began circulating the university was working with employers to offer more employment opportunities to its students, the response was “very overwhelming.”  

There were “some” local students who applied but the majority were international students, he said.  

John Mayich
John Mayich

A labour shortage, particularly in the service industry, in Inverness, Richmond and Victoria counties, and a surging international student body at the university is what’s driven the need for the community engagement program.  

“A lot of smaller employers and even the larger-scale employers were having a difficult time keeping employees around during the tourism season,” Mayich said.  

“There were cases of smaller restaurants that would have to close because they didn’t have enough staff around. They might only be open four or five days a week given the fact they couldn’t keep employees.”  

The island’s overall unemployment rate currently stood at 13.1 per cent in August, according to Statistics Canada. In Nova Scotia, the student unemployment rate is 16.1 per cent.  

The university has been able to hire 13 shuttle van drivers that take the student employees to their jobs — leaving the campus as early as 5:30 a.m. — and returning back to Sydney sometimes as late as 1 a.m.  

It’s as close to a 24-7 operation it can be, Mayich said.  

But the long hours do not seem to bother the students who said they were glad to land a job, unlike many of their classmates.  

“There’s like hundreds of them who didn’t have any jobs (this summer),” said Luthra.  

Another student who goes by only one name, Tanya, 19, from India’s Punjab state, said she had to spend June and July in Toronto because she couldn’t find work in Cape Breton.  

Eventually, after applying to the community engagement program, Tanya was hired by the Bras d’Or Lakes Inn in St. Peter’s. She spent a month there working full time in the kitchen.  

With the return of school this month — she’s studying petroleum engineering — Tanya had to leave the job because her schedule did not allow for such a lengthy commute.  

“It was a new culture, new people so it was a fantastic moment for me,” she said.  

It was important for her to make the most of the experience given to her.  

“It became a habit of me that, ‘OK, I have to go out to learn new things. I have to represent myself over there as something.' I was pretty indulged in it after that,” Tanya said.  

These are jobs that weren’t ordinarily available to CBU students without reliable transportation.  


“It’s one thing that may come from this long-term solution if there are those shortages (in employment) in these communities around the island.”  

-- John Mayich, CBU


In one case, Victoria Co-operative Fisheries Ltd. of New Haven, Victoria Co., hired and housed 12 CBU students because the travel time back to campus was well over two hours one way.  

The company has purchased several properties and rented a couple others to accommodate their student employees as well as their temporary foreign workers, said Osborne Burke, general manager of Victoria Co-operative Fisheries. 

He said an ageing workforce with fewer younger people to draw upon has caused the labour shortage. 

"We've seen hardware stores that can't open on Saturdays and grocery stores that can't open on Sundays because their workers have to get a rest and they've got nobody to replace them. It's happening all over," Burke said. 

The international students were a good fit for the fisheries's processing plant because their start date coincided with lobster season and it ended in late August when the processing of snow crab began to slow down. At their busiest point, the students were picking up 55 to 60 hours a week, he said. 

"They were a pleasant group in the production facility or out on the wharf. They were always smiling and happy, maybe on some days with terrible weather when you shouldn't be smiling, but they were still smiling because the most critical thing is they want to work and make some money while they're here to help pay for their university costs." 

In the future, Mayich said he wouldn't be surprised to see more employers willing to invest in co-operative housing for employees.  

“It’s one thing that may come from this long-term solution if there are those shortages (in employment) in these communities around the island.”  

With the wrinkles ironed out, he is expecting the seasonal employment program will be able to start up earlier in the tourism season next year.  

If it proves its worth and more employers sign up, it could prove to be a feasible program beyond 2020.  

“Can this work … (and) what are the pieces of the puzzle that would need to put this in place in order to make this sustainable going forward?” said Mayich.  

  

Twitter: @cbpost_chris 

RELATED:

CBU program to help students find seasonal employment

Recent Stories