Graduates of the class of 2020 were hit very hard by the pandemic, and it seems the trend may continue for the class of 2021. However, students should feel relieved that the unemployment rate for 15–24 years old Canadians in March 2021 is the lowest it has been since February 2020. 

The pandemic has caused a decrease in employment rates across the country, but they have been rebounding for the past year. In April 2021, Statistics Canada reported the unemployment for Canadians in the 15–24 age group to be 16.1 per cent, down from 27.3 per cent last April. 

The Varsity reached out to the assistant director of Career Exploration & Education, Lily Abediny, to discuss the difficulties that graduates and students face, and the long-term effects that the pandemic has had on the employment market. 

A promising future for job seekers

“Employment levels were temporarily decreased due to a unique and isolated public health concern,” Abediny wrote in an email to The Varsity. She mentioned that, as companies have grown more comfortable doing business online, she’s seen a spike in online employment opportunities, and the implementation of vaccines has also brought with it a sense of optimism. Furthermore, increased vaccination rates will contribute to more employment as lockdown measures gradually go away. 

Employer confidence in economic recovery is improving and students and recent grads will have many more options available once most industries reopen. “Employers were reaching out to us and offering those experiences for graduate students as well as summer opportunities,” Abediny told The Varsity.

Abediny explained that employment will increase as public health restrictions decrease, and Ontario’s economy is projected to grow and produce new opportunities. Hiring in most industries is also close to the pre-pandemic levels. “Compared to 2020, it’s a great time to be looking for work,” wrote Abediny. 

According to Abediny, Career Learning Network (CLNx) — a job, research, and mentorship posting site for U of T students — has seen a 21 per cent increase in off-campus job postings compared to the first quarter of 2020. 

The impact of lockdowns on employment

Abediny acknowledged that there is a “definite relationship” between unemployment and lockdowns. “As we go into lockdowns, there is more fear and more hesitation, and employers are holding back and wondering, ‘what’s coming next?’” 

“There were [summer] opportunities always available, it’s just that some employers decided [to] hold off,” said Abediny. She mentioned that most industries have rebound to pre-pandemic levels. 

The pandemic has also not affected everyone equally. Abediny mentioned that, “The unemployment rate for visible minority groups overall has changed little and remained higher than that of Canadians who are not Indigenous nor a visible minority.” Minoritized and Indigenous students are also seeing a slower summer work recovery rate. 

Industries that were impacted by lockdowns and public health measures are also recovering more slowly. Some industries Abediny mentioned that fall under this category include food, tourism, retail trade, personal care, airlines, manufacturing, and construction. Students in these fields will have a tougher time finding employment, and may find themselves competing with experienced workers who lost their employment during the pandemic. 

How to stay productive during the summer

Abediny explained in an email to The Varsity that summer internships are only one way for students to gain skills and experience. There are many other ways for students to be productive in the summer except internships, like volunteering, research, and extracurricular student groups. 

“Remain hopeful about your future, have a clear understanding of yourself, and explore possibilities for your career,” Abediny wrote. “The short-term pandemic labour market will not predict, guarantee, nor limit graduates’ career path and decisions.” She suggested exploring different possibilities and identifying skills, knowledge, values, and experiences commonly sought by employers. 

Abediny recommended that U of T students check out the CLNx and the Experiential Learning Hub, which is a site for students to explore their options and connect with opportunities. Additionally, some workshops offered by U of T can be found on the Student Life website

Editor’s Note (July 22): This article has been updated to clarify a quote from Abediny.