Looking for purpose: Young Islanders struggle to find fulfilling work

By Dylan DesRoche

April 04, 2016

Though it’s the home of Anne of Green Gables, tasty potatoes and beautiful beaches, some P.E.I. youth can’t seem to get away from home fast enough.

Parents and communities are asking why.

But when you ask Island youth, the answer is simple, there are no jobs. With no fulfilling work, some Island youth are taking the plunge, moving west in search of work. Others are jumping into a life of crime.

 

“There just isn’t enough work to keep people going here. There’s always layoffs and even when the work is there our wages stay the same while the price of everything is rising,” said Mackenzie Ross, a 20-year-old electrician.

Though Ross is college educated, he doesn’t know what to do. The electrical company he works for is struggling to find work for him. With the thought of being laid off weighing on his mind, Ross understands why some would choose to move.

“P.E.I. just can’t offer the same amount of job security as other provinces do, I can see why people would chose to move away.”

It isn’t just the number of jobs either, but how much those jobs are paying, said Ross.

“I would most definitely be making more out west. An apprentice out in Calgary gets what a journeyman would get in Charlottetown. The money is ridiculous.”

Though many young Islanders are taking the plunge and going west, some youth have resorted to a life of crime to support themselves.

Charles, 21,whose name has been changed to protect his identity, started selling marijuana and methamphetamine pills when he was 15.

“It just kind of happened, one thing lead to another… next thing you know I have $1,200 in my pocket.”

Charles has lived in Summerside his entire life, coming from a broken home where his binge-drinking father left both physical and emotional scars.

“My childhood was rough. My dad would just drink and drink. He used to just scream and throw things I just had to get out of there as fast as I could.”

Shortly after his 16th birthday, Charles escaped. by leaping into a world of crime.

older dealers would give Charles methamphetamine pills on credit by He sold the pills at Three Oaks Senior High school to other students.

“It started off small, like 30 to 40 pills every couple days. Eventually I made enough money I could pay for rent in this shitty little apartment.”

Charles would get the pills on credit at about $3.50 each, then he would sell them for up to $10 each to other young people.

“It really does add up after a while, considering as soon as people run out, they want more. It almost sells itself,” he said, looking down to at his feet as he said it.

Charles managed to graduate from high school, despite his criminal activity and drug use. He has continued to sell drugs since, though he does wish for a healthier and happier life.

“Honestly, I want to stop. I’m old enough that I know I can’t live like this forever, but I really don’t know how,” he said.

“Where am I going to work? What am I going to do? I have my Grade 12 and that’s it. I would have to work 60 hours a week to even support myself. What kind of a life is that?”

Charles’s story is not common, but it is part of the story in a place where, according to Charles, drugs are easier to find than jobs.

“Before I started selling I must have applied at a dozen places, even McDonalds. I wanted to work a normal job and get away from my dad. There was just no other option.”

“I did what I did to survive, it felt like it was me against the world.”

Charles isn’t alone, He knows lots of people who have given up hope of finding a real job and turned to selling drugs, he said.

“I can think of at least 10 people I went to school with who have just given up trying to find work. We’re desperate out here.”

The feeling of desperation is all too familiar to Devin Hill, who after struggling to make ends meet on P.E.I., he left everything behind to move to Alberta.

Hill worked on the railroad, repairing old or damaged tracks so oil could be shipped across the country. Once the price of oil began to drop, the fear of layoffs became a reality for Hill.

He was forced to move back to Summerside, the place he tried so hard to escape.

“I wanted to go out west because there was no jobs here and good luck getting any of the jobs here unless your family knows the boss. I just felt so trapped there, I couldn’t wait to get away.”

Burdened by a large amount of student debt, Hill felt the only way he would ever pay it off was to work out west.

“Student loan debt had me crippled and it honestly felt like my only option, at minimum wage, I would hardly be able to afford my payments and pay for rent, let alone buy food or start saving.”

Now with the price of oil sinking, and the chances of being called back to work growing smaller. Hill realizes he’s back at square one.

“I’m stuck back in Summerside in the same position as before. I’m looking for work, but even jobs around here that say they are full-time are really only 32 hours a week. I was working 70 hours a week in Alberta at double the money.”

Bill Martin is the mayor of Summerside and he’s working to fix the problem, he said.

“I’m actually devoting 90 per-cent of my energy towards exactly that and I’m finally starting to gain some traction.”

He has been talking with business owners and developers looking to come to Summerside, hopefully bringing jobs with them.

“The most recent success is the eventual opening of a $31-million, five-star resort that’s going to employ 200 people. It should be opening in December 2016.”

The mayor is also planning for an influx of oil workers returning to the Island.

“We’re working right now on five or six opportunities that are literally going to create hundreds of jobs. We just announced one business opening up in the business park and I had another meeting on Tuesday with a second entity that’s looking to do that same.”

“There’s a lot going on.”

It’s not just Summerside having problems, the issue is province-wide.

Richard Brown is the minister of workforce and advanced learning. It’s his job to seek out initiatives that will help Islanders find work.

One of the biggest hurdles the province faces is the return of workers from Alberta, he has a plan, he said.

“The oil decrease came as a surprise to a lot of people. It is a major issue, but we have programs here in place to assist people coming back from out west.”

Though things may seem bleak, the province is working to fill the employment void by bringing new companies to the Island, he said.

“We’re forever seeking more opportunities out to improve the living conditions of Islanders.”

Brown is optimistic, but Hill is skeptical any real change will happen.

“Something has to be done to make life a little bit easier for Islanders. I know lots of great people who want to work to make their life better but no one will give them a chance,” said Hill.

“How am I suppose to grow if I’m too busy focusing on surviving.”

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