Canceling internships during the pandemic hurts both companies and students

This column is an opinion piece by Ethan Gilhula, an economics student at Western University. For more information on the CBC’s Opinion section, please see the Frequently Asked Questions.

It’s hard to find a job, especially when the one you’re looking for doesn’t exist.

As the academic year draws to a close, I am one of thousands of Canadian students who embark on an annual struggle to find a summer job and gain on-the-job experience. The pandemic has not made this task any easier. As Canadians search every nook and cranny to find more than half a million lost jobs, students face an equally impossible task: finding a summer internship.

The process is similar for many post-secondary students. Find an internship relevant to your studies, apply and wait.

The answer used to be simple, be it an enthusiastic “You’re hired!” or a deadpan “No, thanks.” Today, however, prospective interns face a new response: “Sorry, the internship you applied for has been cancelled.”

It’s an all too familiar answer. The few internships that were once available to students are now reduced in number or have disappeared altogether. After a year of virtual communication, virtual learning, and virtual shopping, why have so many employers been adamant against virtualizing internships for the second summer in a row?

Perhaps the economy is the problem and Canadian companies simply don’t have the resources to intern this year. Perhaps it is the fault of the government, which was unable to pick up the slack when the private sector went into recession. Or perhaps the pandemic has shown companies that they simply don’t require student employees.

Whatever the cause, adjusting to our new normal, as we’re often told to do these days, has become nothing more than benign commonplace repeated to parents, students, and employees disillusioned by the lockdown.

Pedestrians cross an intersection on the edge of the Western University campus in London, Ontario. Summer internships were already hard to come by before the pandemic, and this year many programs and positions have disappeared entirely, writes Ethan Gilhula. (Colin Butler/CBC)

Adaptation should have become the subwayodus operandi of the most vital institutions in our country, prompting them to adapt to demographics left behind by the pandemic. That didn’t happen last summer, and after a year of experiencing the same set of problems, it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.

No matter the cause of student unemployment this summer, the result is the same: Students who don’t get work experience bypass those who do. Some may even find their ability to graduate jeopardized. Consequently, fewer job experience opportunities last year and again this year means fewer opportunities next year, until the result is a cohort of unemployed students with a mountain of student debt and empty resumes.

I study economics, a field devoted to finite values ​​and scarce commodities. When they tell me that the job I need no longer exists, I understand. It is not every year that a global pandemic radically changes society. But by not providing opportunities for students, companies are doing just as much a disservice as the students they aren’t hiring.

A private sector that refuses to invest in future employees is not sustainable in the long run. No industry can survive without a pool of qualified applicants, and no company wants to hire from an inexperienced job market. When students fail to learn the skills they normally get from summer jobs, everyone loses.

Graduate schools and post-secondary programs must be understanding of applicants who lack work experience due to the pandemic.

Employers in Canada must adjust to a student population that, through no fault of their own, is becoming less qualified.

Employers must accept that student applicants will have gaps in their employment history or no history at all.

In short, the problem we face is much bigger than a bunch of post-secondary students who can’t get internships.

When my peers and I enter the workforce in the next few years, we will be undervalued, underprepared, and underqualified. If Canadian companies are not willing to provide students with the experience needed to succeed in their industry, they will not be able to find the young, highly-skilled workers this economy will need as we emerge from the pandemic. And they shouldn’t be surprised when talented graduates seek employment elsewhere.


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