By Dylan DesRoche
Jan. 14, 2015
It`s a cold, rainy October morning as Dustin Ford begins his daily of routine of job hunting.
A typical day sees him checking the online job bank for new positions. On this day Ford is once again disappointed. There aren`t any new postings.
Though disappointed, he decides to go to some local restaurants and ask if they are hiring.
“I have went over six months without a job before, while trying everyday to get one. You don’t just wait for the perfect job to come along.”
Ford quickly throws on a white and plaid dress shirt with a dark pair of jeans and heads out the door, chasing opportunity with every step.
He enters the local Dairy Queen and approaches the cash, politely asking the young employee if he can speak to the manager. The manager approaches.
Ford stands straight, arms at his sides, almost like a solider. Ford greets the manager with a smile and a handshake and quickly asks if there are any positions available. He passes the manager his resume.
Unfortunately, the restaurant is not hiring, but the manager does say he will keep the resume for when a position opens up.
Ford takes the conversation as a victory and continues in search of employment.
“You can`t get upset every time someone says no. You have to keep trying and eventually it will all work out.”
Though the idea of being unemployed might sound nice to some, Ford does not enjoy his time off.
“I would rather be working. I hate having nothing to do and it affects you, like if someone asks you where you`re working and you have to say, no where actually. That’s really hard, people look at you like you`re lazy but I`m trying my best.”
Ford does not want to be working minimum wage forever and has big aspirations for the future. He is interested in becoming a conservation officer, as he is very interested in animals and the environment.
“People with their systems and politics are wrecking the world and I would love to try and stop that. I think everyone should want to help and save the earth.”
The 21-year-old Summerside native is a seasonal worker. Like many Islanders he often finds himself without a job as the seasons change. He said the issue is that there are not enough jobs for individuals who do not have college or university degrees. Minimum wage jobs, which traditionally have been a saving grace for the high school educated, are now being filled by individuals with degrees due to the lack of positions in the field of their choice. It leaves a huge gap, leaving many people high and dry.
“It can be very hard to find work, especially when even the minimum wage jobs now have requirements, what am I supposed to do?”
Ford and many other seasonal workers rely heavily on employment insurance payments to survive financially but federal MP Wayne Easter thinks that changes made to the current system have left it broken.
“The employment insurance system is so broken that we really need to go through a complete overhaul on how we make this system work.”
The problem began with the cancelation of a pilot program said Easter. The pilot project gave islanders five more weeks to pay into EI and when that program was cancelled in 2013 it cost the island economy $12.3 million. Then in October of 2014 the government changed P.E.I.`s regional EI boundaries, going from one single region to the island being divided 2 regions, Charlottetown and Prince Edward Island.
The changes mean that people living in the Charlottetown region have to work more hours to receive EI than islanders living outside of Charlottetown.
The Charlottetown region is far to big said Easter, grouping the islands capital with smaller, more rural municipality’s that arguably should have been placed in the other region.
“We have to look at whole system because 60% of people who are working don’t qualify for
Employment Insurance anymore.”
On top of these changes to the Employment Insurance program P.E.I. also has the third highest unemployment rate in the country at nearly 10%, behind only Newfoundland and New Brunswick. These changes and the islands` high unemployment rate has lead many Islanders to the western provinces to work in the lucrative oil trade.
Devan Hill is one of those Islanders who felt moving to Alberta was his only option.
Hill graduated high school in 2012 and attended St. Thomas University with the hopes of obtaining his B.A. Unfortunately Hill quickly realized it was not for him.
“I had trouble writing paper after paper after paper.”
Hill dropped out and took some time off to decide what his true calling was. He decided on accounting but once again it didn`t feel right.
“I went into accounting and needless to say I`m no mathematician and that ended as it started.”
Hill reluctantly returned home to Summerside, P.E.I. with $35,000 in student loan debts. He found the only job he could, a full-time position at the local Walmart making $11 an hour but quickly realized this was not the type of life he wanted. He decided to make a drastic change.
Hill contacted a family friend living in Alberta who works repairing railroad lines that are crucial in the shipping of oil across the province. The family friend told Hill of the demand for workers and offered him a position. He happily accepted.
Hill is now working for A&B Rail, a company responsible for the maintenance and construction of rail tracks for the next 25 years.
Hill plans to continue working for the company, hoping to eventually become a foreman in charge of his own crew of workers. Even though the work is tough Hill is sure it was his only chance at an interesting life.
“$3,200 every two weeks is like five or six months of part-time saving back home. It gives me a chance to do something with a life that gave me no cards.”
Though moving across the country was scary, Hill is happy with his choice and dreams of a better future.
“I can see the world, buy property, support a family, try and do all that with $10 a hour which after tax you only see $7”.
Hill has some advice for anyone else who feels hopeless.
“You can be 18 years old and bank $75,000 a year with no rent and they pay for your food. As long as you’re a competent worker they`ll keep you around.”
Though Ford is still on P.E.I. and looking for work, he also has some advice for anyone else in struggling to find work and that is to stay positive.
“If you keep trying you will find a job, it might not be your dream job if you stay positive everything will work out.”