Student Participation in the Canadian Labour Force

Student Participation in the Canadian Labour Force

In the popular imagination, tourism and students have often been linked due to the tradition of the “summer job”. This has been viewed as beneficial to both the employers, who need seasonal employees, and the students who need seasonal work. This analysis of data from the Labour Force Survey suggests that link is weakening as the number of tourism jobs rapidly increases, and student labour force participation drops.

Student Employment in Canada 2016

During the summer, Statistics Canada tracks employment of full-time students aged 15 to 24 who will return to school in the fall. In 2016, the employment rate for this group was 43.9% in May, rose to 53.0% in July before falling back to 50.9% in August. The average employment rate across all four months was 48.8%, similar to employment rates in 2015 (49.1%) and 2014 (49.2%). The average unemployment rate for returning students in 2016 was 15.6%.1

Figure 1 – Employment and Unemployment for Returning Students

The student employment rate was highest in Prince Edward Island, peaking at 75.3% in August. Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia saw the lowest employment rates. British Columbia was lowest in May (39.1%) and June (44.0%), Ontario had the lowest July employment rate at 50.7% and Alberta was lowest in August at 47.0%.

Employment Rates by Age Group

Older students had higher rates of employment. Conversely, the unemployment rate was much higher for younger students. The unemployment rate among returning students aged 20 to 24, reached a low of 8.1% in July. In that same month, the unemployment rate for 17 to 19 year olds was 17.3% and among 15 to 16 year olds it was 30.3%. However, those age groups were more likely to be in secondary education and just beginning their search for summer work. For both 15 to 16 and 17 to 19 year olds, the unemployment rate in August dropped to 13.9% and 27.3%, respectively.

Figure 2 – Average Employment Rate: May to August, 2016

Lower employment rates and higher unemployment rates among younger students are not particularly surprising. Older students are more likely to live on their own, need a job and have acquired skills that make them attractive to employers.

However, for businesses that hire students, a long-term trend should be of concern. The participation rate measures the percentage of the population that are active labour force participants (whether or not they are successful in finding work). Among returning students of all ages, the participation rate has been dropping.

Among 20-24 year olds, the rate for the month of July peaked at 83.0% in 2003, but dropped to 75.6% by 2012 and has stayed close to that mark ever since. The participation rate among younger students has also dropped. In 2016, it stood at 40.8% among 15 to 16 year olds, down from 53% in 2007. Among 17 to 19 year olds, it was 71.4%, down from 79% in 2007.

At the same time this, the number of tourism jobs has been growing, from 1.58 million jobs in 2007 to 1.7 million in 2014. The number of full-time jobs grew 4.9% and part-time jobs grew 11.0%.2

Not only are a smaller percentage of students entering the labour force in the summer months, the absolute number of people aged 15–24 has decreased by 90,000 since in 2013.3

Figure 3 – Student Participation Rates vs. Tourism Jobs

The tourism sector has relied heavily on young workers, in 2011 31.0% of the tourism labour force were aged 15 to 24.4 The implication for the tourism sector is a need to attract young people back to the labour market. To do so, we need to understand why youth are choosing not to participate. But even if the participation rate is increased, there is a need to recognize that more jobs are going to be filled by older workers or non-students. These workers will be looking for different working conditions than students, including longer-term employment and jobs that offer future career opportunities.

1 Adapted from Statistics Canada. Table 282-0006 – Labour force survey estimates (LFS), by students during summer months, sex and age group, unadjusted for seasonality, monthly (persons unless otherwise noted), CANSIM (database), accessed: October 20, 2016)

2 Statistics Canada. Tourism satellite account: Human resource module, 2014.

3 Adapted from Statistics Canada, Estimates of population, by marital status or legal status, age and sex for July 1. CANSIM (051-0042), accessed November 2, 2016.

4 Adapted from Statistics Canada, Customized Tabulations: National Household Survey, 2011.