Students and employers in the Tantramar region are feeling the pinch as the cutbacks to this year’s Student Employment Experience Development (SEED) program in New Brunswick start to sink in.
“It’s really hard to run our programs without students,” said Kim Ward, director of Li’l Sand Peeps Daycare in Dorchester.
Ward said the daycare, a non-profit organization, usually runs a summer recreation program for about 40 children in the village. But without students to fill the positions, the program is in danger of not operating in 2019.
“We’re really stuck this year,” she said.
SEED provides funding to employers to create summer job opportunities for post-secondary students. Students apply for the program and, if selected through a random draw, are provided ‘vouchers’ for those various positions.
But the program has been criticized by many organizations and businesses, who have trouble connecting with students who have vouchers.
“This program does not work,” said Ward.
And the challenge has become even greater this year with the provincial government’s most recent cuts to the program.
According to the Liberals, Higgs’ Conservative government has slashed the SEED program by about $4 million this year – which means the number of student vouchers have been cut nearly in half and the duration of the job placements have also been reduced.
Last year, more than 2,000 students were able to find a summer job under the program, with many of those jobs lasting up to 14 weeks.
“This is basically going to mean a lot less summer jobs for students, most of whom worked for non-profit organizations under this program,” said Post-Secondary Education and Labour critic, Guy Arseneault in a press release earlier this month.
The worst part is, said Arsenault, this comes shortly after cuts to New Brunswick’s free tuition and tuition relief programs.
“Getting rid of free tuition reduces access for those who can’t afford school,” he stated. “Now this government is telling students who do need the money from a summer job, ‘Sorry we’re taking that away from you too.’”
Memramcook-Tantramar MLA Megan Mitton agrees.
“I am concerned that there is less funding in the SEED program for students to work in New Brunswick this summer,” said Mitton. “Especially given the government’s recent cuts and changes to post-secondary education funding, many students find themselves needing to earn even more money than they had planned in order to pay for their education.”
She said these cuts also have a significant effect on employers and municipalities.
“There are communities in our riding that are being negatively impacted by the lack of vouchers,” she said. “Organizations that have previously hired students with SEED vouchers may need to shut down programs due to lack of vouchers this year.”
Ward said she has been trying to get answers from the provincial government about how many SEED vouchers have been handed out in the Tantramar riding this year but has gotten nowhere.
She said she has been searching high and low for a student or two in the Dorchester area with a voucher but has yet to connect with any prospects. And she is worried time is running out. It is already mid-May and, by now, she should have already started registration for the summer program.
“It’s just not looking good.”
Ward said there are not many establishments in Dorchester that employ students so it’s challenging when a student who wants to work for the summer is required to have a voucher to be able to access those positions.
“It’s very frustrating,” she said.
Officials at Open Sky Co-operative also relate to the frustrations. While the non-profit organization has been fortunate to have filled its two summer positions this year, executive director Margaret Tusz-King said the annual SEED program does come with its challenges.
Tusz-King said trying to connect the right employer with the right student may not always work through the ‘lottery’ system, as many times the employee’s skills may not fit with the position. So it always becomes a question of whether to accept the first one who comes to the door or to wait for a more fitting applicant, and then perhaps lose out on the chance to have a summer student altogether.
“We are also hearing that students often cannot afford to wait around for 10 or 12 weeks of work. They have to find work as soon as their exams are finished,” she said. “So students whom we have hired in the past have not waited to see if they can return to Open Sky. They have already found longer-term jobs elsewhere that can provide 16 to 18 weeks of employment.”