Every year, about 10,000 students work for the federal government either during the summer or part time throughout the school year as part of the Federal Student Work Experience Program (FSWEP).
The students are hired for all government departments across all educational disciplines, including engineering, health sciences and business, said Joanne Lalonde, director general of client services at the Public Service Commission in Ottawa.
“We have over 1,000 different types of jobs in as many locations across the country in a multitude of business sectors where we require all types of study,” she said. “You can work in Halifax, all the way to the West and up North — we have positions everywhere and all types of backgrounds as well.”
In addition to FSWEP, about 5,000 students participate in the Co-operative Education and Internship Program where they complete a full-time, four-month placement with the federal government as part of their education.
“These programs are an excellent way for students to really try different types of jobs,” said Lalonde.
“They’re designed to give students the required skills or knowledge for entry into a trade or profession. It’s an excellent opportunity for your manager to observe your competencies and skill sets.”
A wide array of employment opportunities for students is one reason the Government of Canada placed in the top three on Universum’s Top 100 Ideal Employer Rankings in the business category.
Slightly more than 3,500 business students across Canada completed the survey, with Apple coming in first place, Google second and the government third. (There is a separate list for engineering and IT students, see sidebar.)
While there are several reasons why students would be interested in working for the public sector, the main reason is altruistic, said Lalonde.
“The public sector offers careers that drive people to make a difference and contribute to the health and safety of Canadians and also the socio-economic well-being of Canadians,” she said.
“There are a lot of attraction elements there for students and graduates.”
Secure employment is one of the top five characteristics Canadian business students are looking for in an employer, as well as financial strength, found the survey.
And the Government of Canada consistently ranks very high on these two elements, said Melissa Burdette, research project manager for Universum’s Americas region, based in New York.
“Seeing what’s going on in the market in the past few years and seeing that students weren’t getting jobs and the layoffs around them… has made students take a step back and say, ‘Wow, I don’t want that to happen to me,’” she said. “And that has made them play more to the security and make sure they are looking for an employer that offers that,” she said.
Working for a company that has respect for its people is the characteristic most important to students, found the survey. Google, Apple and the Government of Canada all ranked high on this element.
Students want to work for an employer that recognizes its employees are human and a valuable part of the organization, said Burdette.
“They’re looking around at their parents or the generations before them that have worked so hard for organizations and maybe didn’t get any benefits from it in the end,” she said.
“This generation is demanding more — they’re very willing to work hard but they expect the same respect from an organization that they give to the organization for their work.”
Offering a respectful workplace is the primary responsibility and objective of all managers at the federal government and they have a wide variety of tools — such as codes of ethics and anti-harassment policies — to help them achieve this, said Lalonde.
A friendly work environment is another one of the top five elements students want in an employer, which is an area where Google and Apple receive high marks, according to the survey.
Google is known for having an environment where employees ride around on scooters, relax in lounge chairs and play video games, which makes it seem like a really fun and friendly place for students, said Burdette.
A friendly work environment is particularly important to students because they realize they are going to be spending more time with their co-workers than anyone else in their lives, said Anthony West, a senior analyst at Decode in Toronto, which publishes the annual Canada’s Top Campus Employers survey.
“You want to enjoy the company of those people and people can, in a lot of ways, no matter what you’re doing, make or break that experience,” he said.
“If you’re surrounded by people who are interesting and equally passionate and engaged in the work you’re doing, that makes things a lot more worthwhile.”
Although Apple and Google don’t have many employees in Canada, they consistently come out on top of student lists — which speaks to the power of the employment brand, said Burdette.
“From a student’s point of view, Apple is something that’s in their hands every day; it’s something they’re familiar with,” she said.
“And they’re hearing stories about the leadership and how they promote innovation and creativity and that’s the same thing Google has going on as an organization that’s challenging the status quo and that’s really attractive to this generation.”
If an employer wants to be a top employer for students, it should make sure to get its branding message out there and highlight what makes it different from the competition, said Burdette.
Employers should put videos or stories on their website featuring current employees explaining what it’s like to work at the company because students want “almost a reality TV view of what it’s like to work for an employer,” she said.
While social media may work great for a consumer-facing brand, other companies need to focus on more traditional routes such as career fairs and campus recruitment to build their brand with students.
It’s in an employer’s best interest to be attractive to students since the labour market is “fast approaching a pretty serious situation” with baby boomers retiring and a shortage of skilled labour looming, said West.
Aside from a sheer need, the benefits to employers for hiring students are “myriad and borderline overwhelming,” he said.
“They’re high-energy, they have an inquisitive nature, it could be they are learning leading-edge technologies and they come in with innovative ideas and different ways of doing the work,” said Lalonde.
“It’s injecting the workplace with all that energy and new ways of seeing things and with all that freshness.”
Top 10 employers for business students
3. Government of Canada
4. Bank of Canada
6. Royal Bank of Canada
8. Air Canada
9. Canada Revenue Agency
Top 10 employers for IT/engineering students
6. Electronic Arts
7. Government of Canada
Source: Universum’s Top 100 Ideal Employer Rankings
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