BY Amanda Teixeira

John Vowles lost his job during the first wave of COVID-19 lockdowns. He was working as a dishwasher in an Irish pub but had to make a quick change.

“I decided to work in retail since I was laid off from my other job because of Covid. At the time, I just wanted money and my parents suggested applying at grocery stores since those won’t really be affected by Covid,” says Vowles.

Man stocking grocery shelves with bags of spinach.

John Vowles on the job stocking shelves with the day’s produce delivery. Photo by Amanda Teixeira.

Vowles is grateful he could keep earning money while many struggled to find work. Still, his new part-time job is far from ideal.

“There are other days where you’re constantly going back and forth trying to get all these tasks done, you end your shift and you just know that after all the work and effort you put in doesn’t add up to the amount of money you’re being paid,” says Vowles.

A report from employment service Indeed found that lower-paying jobs are struggling to find applicants. It says that job seekers are looking for more money and better working conditions.

A study from Statistics Canada revealed the pandemic affected youth unemployment rates far more than older Canadians looking for jobs. The pandemic job loss triggered the youth unemployment rate to rise to 14.4 percent of men and 13.4 percent of women in 2020.

Unemployment rates of youth across the Canadian provinces. Graphic by Amanda Teixeira.

“What we see is an unequal employment recovery for youth and women. Due in part to youth and women holding the bulk of service and retail sector roles which were sectors that felt some of the largest impacts of the pandemic lockdown measures,” says Catherine Stace, President of the Canadian Association of Career Educators and Employers.

This is where programs such as Youth on the Rise created by the Youth Employment Services Foundation come into play. It’s a free two-month training session that introduces participants to a rigid structure to ensure successful integration into the workforce. Once training is complete, they are placed in full-time jobs.

Unemployment rates of youth in Canada throughout the pandemic. Graphic by Amanda Teixeira.

Teneille Arnott, program manager of Youth on the Rise, says there are several causes for higher youth unemployment.

“There is a gap in terms of even pre-lockdown, there was and still is in all these kinds of customer-facing jobs. There are labor shortages everywhere. There is a trend with youth specifically, gen z, that they are shifting the market because they have higher standards. They are looking for work but they are not ready to settle for just any job,” says Arnott.

Annalise Iten is the Senior Employment Counselor at Youth Employment Services Foundation. She describes younger generations as being more demanding from their employers.

“They want honest leadership, clear communication. I think it is a good thing to prosper this kind of value because it really is about earning honest wages for honest work. Making sure that the people who are on top are being held accountable,” says Iten.

Vanessa Pettorelli is a marketing major at Concordia University. She spent years developing her personal brand, which she showcases on multiple social media platforms. Pettorelli worked in retail jobs from the age of 17 when she first worked at the clothing store Garage.

Her income now comes from her social media platforms and freelance work for brands online. Her online presence became more prominent during the pandemic as well as her online following.

“I share my fashion and lifestyle on Instagram and TikTok and then work with companies that align with my own personal brand. I love the creative freedom I have and the flexibility of my schedule. Although a lot of work is put into the behind-the-scenes, I love that I’m able to make my own schedule. I also love connecting with others through shared interests,” says Pettorelli.

While her pictures look quite glamorous online, there are also struggles with her chosen avenue, from shooting content outside on below-freezing temperatures to navigating the legalities of creating trustworthy partnerships with brands.

Six pictures taken from Instagram. Women poses for the picture.

Pettorelli’s Instagram is full of outdoor shots during Canadian winters. Photo collage courtesy of Vanessa Pettorelli.

Pettorelli states these “untraditional” part-time jobs have the option to become sustainable with the right motivation.

“I started sharing on Instagram more regularly and I loved the creativity and passion behind it. That made me want to continue and pursue content creating as a future career. Social media growth is unique to everyone, and it really depends on hard work, consistency, and the right timing,” says Pettorelli.

While COVID caused disruptions to many businesses, the lockdown period sparked an idea for Vowles and his two friends. The idea was to start their own business, called MYCITY. In less than a year, Vowles and his partners created a distinct logo for the Montreal-based brand, designed and produced their apparel pieces, and marketed their first launch.

“Our objective for MYCITY is to bring communities together as one and represent their city altogether with a passion,” says Vowles.

Close up of man looking off camera.

MYCITY Shirt John Vowles wears the sweater his brand designed. Photo by Amanda Teixeira.

Vowels says he encourages others his age to diversify their income sources. He has been using income from his part-time job to fund his business. While juggling the two responsibilities and school is not easy, Vowles stays optimistic for the brand’s future.

He hopes in the future to continue expanding his freelance photography work as well as the brand so he won’t need the financial aid from a part-time job.

Iten states that even if youth are searching for jobs while being unemployed, any job is not cutting it anymore.

“They are seeing a lot of stuff going on in the world around them that is not just. There is a lack of equity. In my mind we should be very thankful, it is a good thing to prosper this kind of value,” says Iten.

Main image by Amanda Teixeira.
Published April 13, 2022.