’Tis the summer of discontent

Competitive job market leaves many Queen’s students in search of employment

Kingston Employment and Youth Services Program Manager Gillian Watters says Kingston’s struggling tourism industry is primarily to blame for few job openings this summer.
Kingston Employment and Youth Services Program Manager Gillian Watters says Kingston’s struggling tourism industry is primarily to blame for few job openings this summer.

“I should have brought my resumé,” a frustrated Marc Li said while waiting in line to order at the Starbucks at the corner of Division and Johnson streets.

Li’s prolonged summer job hunt has become a full-time job in itself—without any breaks.

It soon became apparent, even before our interview began, that Li was getting desperate when he asked me, “Before we start the interview, can I grab an application first?” Li, Sci ’11, is one of many Queen’s students who have discovered that it’s possible to have too much spare time. He’s spent his summer looking for a job amidst the current economic recession.

According to Statistics Canada, the national unemployment rate is 8.4 per cent, an 11-year high. 360,000 Canadian jobs have been lost since last October—42,000 in May alone.

“It started with looking for legit engineering internships with big companies all over the country. That was the first plan,” he said. “I just researched engineering firms online and emailed them directly. I applied to five I thought I had a pretty good chance at. I started with that and I wasn’t getting any responses at all.”

Li, who is studying mechanical engineering, said his original backup plan was to find a job as a research assistant on campus.

“I then used Career Services and applied for three or four research assistant positions and I heard no response from them either,” he said. “I would say about three weeks after reading week I gave up on that plan.” Without hearing back from any of the professors he contacted, Li said he decided to pursue jobs in the retail sector, but didn’t think the search would be difficult.

“I soon noticed how competitive it was just to find a minimum wage job.”

Although he has a lot volunteer experience, Li said his lack of work experience proved to be a huge detriment.

“Back at home in Mauritius, I was a soccer coach and was a boy scout, so I did a lot of volunteering with them,” he said. “When I applied for a minimum wage job they were constantly asking me ‘What other work experience do you have?’ and I would be like ‘Not much.’”

To fill his time, Li is taking ECON 111 through correspondence and is also coaching an under-10 house league team in the Cataraqui Clippers soccer club.

The department of Continuing and Distance Studies has recorded an eight per cent increase in correspondence course enrolment this summer compared to last, with the number of courses offered remaining at 18.

Li said he is considering international volunteer opportunities as an alternative to paid employment.

“Currently, I’m applying for volunteering positions in Iceland. I’m really looking forward to it. It would be cleaning up the coastline, pretty much helping the locals repaint their houses and rebuild their houses,” he said. “I would travel anywhere to volunteer.” Mallory Ketcheson, ArtSci ’12, is an anomaly in this current economic climate. She’s working four summer jobs in the Kingston area, with the majority acquired through personal and job connections.

Ketcheson is a research assistant in the computer engineering department. She is also a camp counsellor, works the refreshments cart at a golf course and is a waitress with a catering company. Ketcheson, who has been working consistently since she was 15 years old, said her persistence and willingness to explore any possible connection the key to her successful job searches.

“You have to get out there and apply yourself. Don’t just sit there at home, looking on the internet and waiting for something to happen. You have to get out there and hand out resumes constantly. All I did until I found a job was look for a job,” she said. “I’d say it’s a bit of luck, but it’s mainly networking. Call whoever you know you might get a job from. It can’t hurt, all they can do is say no.”

Gillian Watters, the program manager at Kingston Employment and Youth Services (KEYS) said students have to be more proactive than in the past in order to find employment in today’s competitive job market.

Watters said KEYS offers students access to job banks, career counselling and federal and provincial employment programs, with the most popular being the Summer Job Service.

“We deliver a program called the Summer Jobs Service run by the Government of Ontario’s Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. It offers employers a wage incentive of two dollars per hour for hiring students for the summer,” she said. “What happens here is you can registrar online for Summer Jobs Service. You can check a variety of job boards online. We do get employers who just want us to refer and we’re going to refer people that we’ve seen and met. We’re not going to refer people who are just out there in cyberspace.

Watters said more students have been using the service’s online job board, but face-to-face interaction remains the key to finding job opportunities.

“What we’re finding is this year that isn’t enough anymore, you can’t find work that way. People are telling us that they are really having to go back to the old methods of pounding the pavement and knocking on doors. Those are always the most powerful methods anyways, personal contact is always more effective.”

Watters, who’s been at KEYS for 21 years, said youth aged 16 to 25 typically have a more difficult time finding employment than the rest of the working population.

“To this day, that age group are twice as likely to be unemployed. Employers in this mean and lean environment would prefer to hire someone who can come in and make them money right away,” she said. “It’s often because they don’t have the same type of skills that a more experienced worker would have.”

Watters said Kingston hasn’t been hit by the recession as dramatically as other areas due to its status as an institutional town; with a large percentage of public sector jobs.

“I think that generally speaking Kingston is really fortunate [because] we have so many public sector jobs and those are reasonably safe. If anything, we’re starting to attract some business. Overall, Kingston has been pretty cushioned from the recession thus far.”

Watters said despite having the highest number of restaurants in Canada, the competition for summer retail and food services positions has been tight primarily due to Kingston’s declining tourism industry.

“Alot of the tourism-based businesses are not hiring as many students. I think they’re expecting that we’re going to have fewer tourists—particularly those from the States. I think that’s been the pattern for the last three to four years anyway. “

Watters said this trend has contributed to the unusually high number of well-qualified Queen’s students who are jobless this summer.

“Many of the businesses are slowing down, so they are making sure that they have enough work hours for their current core employees and sharing those hours around.”

Jeff Sobil, ArtSci ’10, is also having a difficult time finding employment in Kingston, despite, his extensive resume with experience as a golf course employee, camp counsellor, server and lifeguard.

“I’ve been very active on campus with NEWTS frosh week, I’m one of the equity officers for an international conference for next year and I’m also involved in various charities on campus,” he said, adding that a friend gave him some unconventional advice designed to increase his marketability as a job candidate.

“I have a friend who’s a graduate student who asked me if I had considered possibly dumbing down my resume, because it could be that I’m coming across as being overqualified and that spooks off employers.”

Sobil estimates he’s handed out between 45 and 50 resumes to businesses in the retail sector in town including on Wolfe Island and the Canadian Forces Base. He hasn’t had any interviews yet.

“It’s really a shame because I’ve never been one on a resume or job application to feel comfortable pumping up my experience or my skills; I like my abilities to talk for themselves at an interview.”

Sobil, who stayed in Kingston during the summer to prepare for the MCAT exam, said he wouldn’t consider volunteer experience to fill the void lack of paid employment has left because he’s paying his own way through school.

Committed to staying in Kingston for the entire summer, Sobil said he’s said he’s optimistic about his job prospects.

“A couple weeks back, a few jobs that I applied were saying that they would be hiring more positions later on in the summer, probably once the high schools are let out, so I would be competing with high school students. That was a bit of a light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “Somewhere, I’m sure there are jobs— maybe over the rainbow.”


The Kingston Employment and Youth Services (KEYS) website can help you get hooked up with a personal career counsellor. Their job board also has employment postings that aren’t available anywhere else.

The provincial government’s Summer Jobs Service website posts jobs located mostly in the non-profit sector. The program also offers job hunting advice targeted at post-secondary students.


Queen’s Career Services website has a great FAQ section which will answer all your job hunting questions.

­­­ ­—Emily Davies

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