The recent cancellation of a provincial summer job program could drain some young thinkers from Lethbridge's talent pool.
Alberta's provincial budget, announced last week, didn't earmark any funding for the Summer Temporary Employment Program (STEP), which had provided jobs for about 3,000 students across Alberta for a total of $7.4 million a year. That means some local employers, particularly non-profits and small businesses, may no longer be able to afford to hire summer students.
At the City of Lethbridge, six summer positions are on the chopping block because of the program's cancellation - most of them at the Galt Museum and in small municipal departments, such as assessment and taxation, that don't have money built in to their operating budgets to hire interns, according to the city's human resources manager, Jason Elliott.
"I would say that they are not likely to bring on a position that they would have otherwise if the STEP program had been there. It's unfortunate for sure," Elliott said of the Galt Museum.
STEP's cancellation won't affect larger departments, like parks, which usually budgets to hire up to 50 students each summer, he said, but that doesn't mean the loss of student job funding won't hit the city hard.
"In the broader community of Lethbridge, the cancellation of a program like this, I think, is pretty significant because this is a high student population community and one of our desires, one of our hopes, is always to keep students around during the time that they're not busy with studies so that maybe they end up staying here in Lethbridge after they're done their studies," Elliott said. "Even if it's a handful of students every year, this could represent a bit of a hit for Lethbridge if we can't keep them here during the summer."
Many of the jobs that qualified for STEP funding were seen as stepping stones for students looking to start a career in the city, according to the University of Lethbridge Students' Union president.
"It's not just a financial loss for students. A lot of these jobs are their first jobs in a sector that students may look to be employed in after they graduate, so it was also a good way to get your foot in the door for various things, so that opportunity is now also lost for students," said Armin Escher.
"You're also affecting the various non-profits and the businesses that use this program. They relied on this funding in order to have employment over the summer."
The City of Lethbridge and other employers are looking into federal government programs as a way to pay for these lost summer student jobs.