Hot on the trail of a summer job

Susan
Susan Flanagan
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Persistence really can pay off

— Telegram illustration

Last June I did what I swore I’d never do — I became a helicopter parent.             My eldest was in the midst of writing his final high school exams. He had applied for several jobs and there was one that seemed more attractive than the others.

It was getting down to crunch time and he hadn’t heard anything regarding interviews. I asked him to give them a call. He said he’d get to it after exams, but I was welcome to make the call on his behalf.

Hello, what was I thinking? I called the person listed on the job announcement and when his voice mail kicked in I left a message.

The man reciprocated with a prompt email to No. 1. “It is never wise to have a third party call on your behalf, unless that person is a valid reference (and even then, it is better to have them write a letter of reference rather than call the employer).”

My impatience cost my son an interview. But you know what? He wasn’t bothered. He went on to get a job on his own. No intervention from Mommy Dearest.

The job was perfect. Less than a five-minute walk from our house. Lots of shifts. Bosses who believed in his potential and trusted him with cash and keys. And I think he learned more in his retail job than he would have in a tour guide position. He helped set up the store before it ever opened. He worked cash, took care of customer inquiries, stocked shelves and even mowed grass.

The few times I visited while he was working, he was always being hailed to the cash or to men’s wear. He was an essential part of the chain that made the store work.

Certificate of conduct

For his position, my son had to get a certificate of conduct at the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary offices off Parade Street. Many jobs these days require this, as it shows you do not have a criminal record.

The process is easy. You go online, print the form, fill it out, drop it off or send it in to 1 Fort Townsend, St. John’s, A1C 2G2. You have to hand over $20 with the application. Cheques can be made out to Newfoundland Exchequer Account. The receptionist then gives you a receipt with a date that the form should be ready and a phone number to call to make sure it’s been processed before you make the trip back.

You should give them a week to 10 days to process the form. If you go in person to pick it up, remember the office is closed from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. daily. Only the applicant can pick up the form and must bring two pieces of ID, one of which has to have the date of birth.

Once you get the certificate, make sure you take a couple of photocopies in case you need one for another job. If you need another copy from the RNC, it’ll cost you another $20 and you’ll have to wait to pick it up. Certificates can also be picked up in Corner Brook and Labrador City.

Last year, No. 2 got his dream job at a pizza place, only a 10-minute walk from our house. Persistence got him his job. He had applied months before when there wasn’t an opening. He kept checking back with the owner. Finally, after he had gone to work as a volunteer counsellor at a week-long summer camp on Salmonier Line, he got the call.

When I told his future employer that my son wouldn’t be available for another five days, the man said that was fine. He knew how much my son wanted the job and asked me to have him call as soon as he got back to town. No. 2 has been happily working there ever since.

Persistence and determination paid off for me, as well, in getting one of my first reporting jobs. It was back in the early ’90s and I was fresh out of journalism school. Before I left Halifax, I had put in a call to Michael Harris, then-news director at NTV. He told me to drop in and see him as soon as I got back to St. John’s.

In the meantime, he asked to see a copy of my demo tape — sort of a video résumé for a broadcast journalist. The only problem was my demo tape only had fluffy news stories from our weekly half-hour student show. Once he laid eyes on my amateurish tape, all bets were off.

He liked what he heard on the phone, but he didn’t like what he saw on my rinky-dink demo tape. So when I got back home, he wouldn’t take my calls.

But I had my heart set on the job so I went to the NTV office and sat in the lobby next to the receptionist for an entire afternoon. He didn’t show. (I didn’t know about the back door at that point.) The next day I came back and sat again and waited and waited until hours later he arrived, fresh from a game of tennis.

I stood up, told him who I was, and he invited me in for a chat. I reported for training the next morning.

That was a job after two university degrees. My jobs between university semesters were all with Parks Canada. I started in Quebec City guiding on a replica of Jacques Cartiers’ flagship for two seasons, moved on to L’Anse aux Meadows and then on to Cape Spear. They were by far the best summer jobs I have ever had — outdoors, dealing with happy people on vacation, sharing interesting tidbits about bog iron, light keepers and spindle whorls. The pay was fantastic; I learned tons and met people who remain lifelong friends.

To get one of these federal tour-guiding jobs these days, you have to apply early — like in January or February — with the Public Service Commission through the Federal Student Work Experience Program (FSWEP).

Don’t worry, though, not all jobs have a winter deadline. New jobs are posted all the time. The federal government employs tens of thousands of post-secondary students each summer.

Once you get your information to FSWEP, they’ll consider you for jobs up until October of that year. When October comes they erase the whole inventory and you have to reapply.

The pay is good. And if you do an outstanding job, you can be invited back the following summer. Park interpreters are only one example of jobs with FSWEP. You can also work with the Canadian Coast Guard, Fisheries and Oceans or Canada Border Services.

There’s another long-standing program called the Student Work and Service Program (SWASP), which provides students with experience in the non-profit, community sector.

SWASP is entirely funded by the federal government and administered by the Community Sector Council NL. With this program the federal government provides money to non-profit organizations so they can retain students. So, if you do volunteer work for a non-profit organization, talk to them and see if they have filled out a SWASP application.

The jobs generally run eight weeks and pay $1,400 ($175 per week) plus a $1,400 tuition voucher for study in the fall. The deadline for this year’s applications was Monday.

And remember, the student has to fill out an application in tandem with the non-profit organization. For more information, contact swasp@cscnl.ca

Next week: more on summer jobs and study programs.

In the meantime, if you’d like to get the word out about jobs you know of, email susan@48degrees.ca

Grad feedback

Melissa writes: “Very true!! I graduated a couple of years ago but I didn’t go to the actual prom because of the price of it. There was no way my family could afford to go and I wanted them to be with me that day.

“So, I got a second-hand dress and did the whole limo and pictures thing with my friends and went to the meet and greet but then left and spent time with my family until about midnight when I went to the safe grad, thankfully that was free for us and not a part of the price. And safe grad is an amazing thing, they put so much work into it and it really is appreciated.”

Helen writes: “Thank you for the wonderful comment, Susan. You are right; proms can be good and bad. I liked your take on those grads who cannot afford a prom dress/tux and all the accessories that go with that and that they have to have a date to go with. Not everyone is as fortunate as others in this province to do this gala in style. I do appreciate your take on proms and thank you!”

Joan writes: “Your article is a step in the right direction. Sure, tough spots greet all of us on the road through life, but public schools are there to provide everyone with equal opportunities for the next stage of their lives, and not to torture the financially poor students while providing the rich ones, and their parents, with an opportunity for tasteless overconsumption.”

Marie writes: "Your column generated a lot of discussion at our school about how to include all students in upcoming graduation events — especially those who can't afford a dinner ticket. Parents also discussed whether those who haven't volunteered at fundraising should benefit at all. A parent committee has fundraised $10,000 for the Safe Grad. It was suggested that some of that money be used to purchase tickets for those who can't afford one. (It costs over $200 for a student and two parents to attend the meal portion of the evening). Students have even started weighing in saying it may be the parents who have fundraised but it's the students' grad and they want everyone to be able to attend. Thank you for writing about the cost of Grads and Proms."

Organizations: Parks Canada, Public Service Commission, Canadian Coast Guard Student Work and Service Community Sector Council NL

Geographic location: Parade Street, Corner Brook, Halifax Quebec City

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