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Still plenty of summer apprenticeships for students, says co-ordinator

"If you don't have the employment opportunities to support the students to get in the door, then the rest of it – I don't want to say it doesn't matter – but the students have to get in the door first.”
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Seanna Kryger (front) and Jacob Trang are students in the Registered Apprenticeship Program. They are both working at Earl's in St. Albert. July 22, 2021. JESSICA NELSON/St. Albert Gazette

St. Albert resident and recent high school graduate Kaydon Wagner said he has been fortunate to be employed as an apprentice in plumbing and gas fitting throughout the pandemic.

“I got about a one-week layoff right when COVID hit North America … then a week later, the boss called me back and said, 'There's work.' And ever since, I've been working,” Wagner said.

According to data from Alberta’s economic dashboard, the unemployment rate for youth aged 15 to 24 reached 18.1 per cent in June, but youth involved in the Registered Apprenticeship Program (RAP) don’t seem to be having the same issues with employment as some of their peers.

Bill Turnham, the RAP program coordinator at Bellerose Composite High School, said he has noticed quite the opposite employment rates compared to the statistics.

“I think now that where we're coming into a situation where the province is, as well as our premier, would put it – open for summer – a lot of the businesses are becoming a little more opportunistic and trying to create and support opportunities for our students,” said Turnham.

Turnham said the numbers are interesting from a general employment standpoint, and likely do reflect the situation we were in, pandemic-wise, at that time.

“When those numbers were likely taken, we were still in the thick of COVID. People weren't sure whether we were coming out of it or going back into another wave,” he said.

Many students who worked in the hospitality industry were not working in June.

“Yet now in July, a lot more, a majority of those students are back to work,” said Turnham.

St Albert resident Riley Cartier is Earl’s regional chef for Edmonton North and a former RAP student.

Earl’s placed more registered apprenticeship students this past year than they have in previous years, said Cartier, the reason being a big push from Careers: The Next Generation (RAP) and schools to provide opportunities for students.

“We've seen a large success this year so far with placing RAP students in our restaurant, but this is more like in the last three months than [in] the beginning of the year,” explained Cartier.

Cartier said in the last three months they have placed around 20 students in St. Albert.

In the last five years throughout the province, Earl’s has had about a 500-per-cent increase in apprenticeship student hires, Cartier said.

“I expect this year for that to double for us as an organization. I expect in Alberta that we will employ around 100 or more apprenticeship students in Alberta this year,” said Cartier.

Cartier said he believes the RAP program is becoming more predominant now than it has been in the past few months.

“I've been working with Careers: The Next Generation for about three years now and we've been trying to build this rapport [with] them and apprenticeship students in our industry. I believe that it's catching on as a fun place for young people to start [to] learn life skills that they're going to use for their futures,” Cartier said.

Turnham said over the course of the year they have had many more students interested in the RAP program, which he didn't expect. Turnham said it has been one of the better years as far as students wanting to get involved in programs and opportunities.

“At a time where I thought, you know, with COVID it’s going to be limiting, a lot of kids are going to be just as reserved as the employers are – that wasn't the case over the past year,” Turnham said.

However, there are some challenges in the current employment climate. Students do need to be more patient when looking for employment. Turnham said he is still placing students for the summer, when traditionally they would have a lot more placements secured by this point.

Students are not only competing with other students for jobs right now, but they are also competing with everyone else.

Turnham said success comes down to educating students about finding opportunities; sourcing those opportunities; applying for them; following up; and making sure students are maintaining connections with employers.

“Maybe they're not hiring you today, but keep contact in a very diligent way, and your resume is going to stay on the top of the pile, so when they're ready to hire you, you'll be the first one they come to,” said Turnham.

The opportunities that existed pre-pandemic are also not there anymore.

“Some of the heavy-equipment trades are still quite popular, although the opportunities aren't quite there in comparison,” Turnham said.

Turnham said students will often come to the program with ideas about what they want to do, and he will make suggestions based on the opportunities available at the time.

“You have to start somewhere and one of the key proponents of apprenticeship and RAP, is that that student is employed, and employed in meaningful employment that's going to allow them to get to that advanced education level. … If you don't have the employment opportunities to support the students to get in the door, then the rest of it – I don't want to say it doesn't matter – but the students have to get in the door first.”