By J.W. Schnarr and Karlene Skretting
Southern Alberta Newspapers
Students who lost their footing under PC cuts are going to find themselves back in STEP.
Back in April, the provincial government announced it was bringing back the Summer Temporary Employment Program to help create an estimated 3,000 summer jobs for students. The government has pledged $10 million annually to the program.
On May 26, Premier Rachel Notley said while the program probably won’t be back this summer; it is expected to be in full swing for 2016.
“It’s unlikely that we will be able to bring back the program this summer as we are too far into the summer season to get the full benefits of it,” said Notley during a recent press conference.
“We are examining other phased ways we can bring it back, and without question, it will be back by next summer.”
The PC party axed the program in 2013, and former Premier Alison Redford faced criticism from community groups for calling it a “crutch.” The 2013 budget allocated $7 million to the final year of the program.
“We will be glad to have it again because we got turned down for all of our government funding for the students this summer, for the first time ever,” said Wes Balderson, Magrath Museum board president.
The Magrath Museum was not a unique case, having to turn elsewhere to find funding to hire summer students and continue normal operations. The museum needed to turn to the town for extra assistance and to use the bulk of their annual fundraiser proceeds to cover the wages of their two students.
The later, is money that normally would have went to help with other operating costs and facility improvements instead of covering wages.
“This year is going to hurt us,” admitted Balderson, but added that STEP being reinstated next year will help the museum to restock their savings account for the addition of the Agriculture Display building.
“We are the tourism information center for the town in the summer and when we get the new building we will need more than just one or two students, so STEP coming back will be great. It will give us an opportunity to involve more young students and provide more local employment opportunities.”
STEP was established in 1972 by former Premier Peter Lougheed in 1972 and ran for more than 40 years. It is used by municipalities, non-profit groups, and community organizations to create summer jobs for students that could not otherwise be created. The provincial government shared the cost of the wages with employers. The grant guidelines require that the organization add money on top of the grant hourly wage to pay the summer students at least minimum wage, if not more to attract talented and knowledgeable employees.
The province sees STEP as a way for employers to discover new talent while providing important learning experiences and skills-development opportunities for students.