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UPEI graduate says government not doing enough to lure young people back to P.E.I.

Alex MacDonald, 21, plans on attending Western University next year after she graduates from UPEI next month. However, she doesn’t see much of an employment future for herself back on P.E.I., something she thinks politicians should pay more attention to.
Alex MacDonald, 21, plans on attending Western University next year after she graduates from UPEI next month. However, she doesn’t see much of an employment future for herself back on P.E.I., something she thinks politicians should pay more attention to. - Jim Day

This is the next story in a series The Guardian is publishing on district profiles and election issues up until April 22. Click here to read all of our Decision '19 coverage


When it comes to post-university employment, Alex MacDonald, 21, isn’t sure she has a future on P.E.I.

The fourth-year psychology and diversity in social justice student will graduate from UPEI next month and then plans on attending Western University in the fall.

But she doesn’t think there will be anything for her here once she’s ready to enter the workforce full time.

The outmigration of young, bright minds from P.E.I. certainly isn’t a new story.

It’s also one of the issues on her mind as she thinks about the current provincial election.

“When I think about election issues that pertain to youth I’m thinking about things like housing, what it’s like to live on P.E.I., what public transit is like (but also) what jobs are here and what incentives are there for students to stay once they finish their education here,’’ MacDonald told The Guardian.

MacDonald said there was a time not so long ago that graduates came back to P.E.I. after their education because they had family here. However, she said that’s no longer enough.

“When I think about jobs, I’ve been told my whole adult life there are no more careers anymore, nothing with a pension and benefits. We’re going to be working in a gig economy. It’s going to be contract to contract, so I think it makes it harder for political parties to start promising job growth. It’s really hard to promise those things in the economy we’re living in.’’

So, MacDonald has been putting her efforts into gaining skills that are transferrable, so she doesn’t pigeon-hole herself into any one area.

She’s been brushing up on her research skills, making sure she speaks well, working on her accounting skills and making sure she’s up to speed on social media.

“I’m trying to make my skill set as diverse as possible because I know there’s no job for me out there . . . that I’ll be able to train for specifically anymore.’’

The P.E.I. government has put a lot of emphasis over the last few years on growth things like the tech sector, but MacDonald says that doesn’t do her much good as an bachelor of arts student.

She’d like to see the incoming government start to think a bit more about bringing a diversity of Islanders back home or create incentives for them to stay in the first place.

MacDonald said politicians talk about the importance of youth retention and young entrepreneurs all the time only to see, to cite one small example, Charlottetown city council turn down an application recently for two young businessmen to open a food truck on Great George Street because the business would have included alcohol sales.

“It’s lip service a lot of the time. We hear people say they care about young people and they want them here.’’

UPEI students, from left, Samantha Mintz, Emma Sheppard and Jacy McMillan say the cost of textbooks and the availability and cost of housing are two of the biggest stress points for students these days. - Dave Stewart
UPEI students, from left, Samantha Mintz, Emma Sheppard and Jacy McMillan say the cost of textbooks and the availability and cost of housing are two of the biggest stress points for students these days. - Dave Stewart

The Guardian also talked to a number of other students in Charlottetown to find out what their thoughts are.

While the graduating students talked about worries over their future, students just starting out are too busy worrying about the present.

“School is expensive,’’ first-year arts student Jacy McMillan said. “That’s a lot of stress on us. Housing is also a big one. It was really hard for us to find a place to live. As for jobs, that will be a problem (to worry about) down the road.’’

Business student Emma Sheppard said the cost of residence was her biggest concern, while her friend, Samantha Mintz, said the cost of textbooks can set a student back almost $1,000 per semester.

Thomas Haslam, a first-year French immersion student, said he’s been trying to pay as much attention to the mixed-member proportional representation (MMP) talk as possible.

“I see MMP as confusing,’’ Haslam said. “I see much more advantages to keeping it the way it is.’’

Students at Holland College identified housing as a big issue.

A few also pointed to the need for an improved transit system with longer service and additional bus routes as a need. While the transit service is run by Charlottetown, Cornwall and Stratford the municipalities do receive money from the province.

Twitter.com/DveStewart

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