In past posts, I discussed student employment programs from the perspective of the Dawson City Museum (e.g., Reduced Student Positions). Within this post, I consider my own experiences as a student employee as well as the student perspectives expressed interviews and archival material for the Dawson City Museum Project.
As someone who benefited from student employment policies, my perception is biased. I have had both positive and negative experiences with Young Canada Works, which are important to acknowledge. Notably, these experiences reflect student perspectives articulated in the material analyzed for the Dawson City Museum (DCM) project.
Working in collections management at the Moncton Museum (now Resurgo Place) through the Young Canada Works program was one of my favorite jobs. I was trained in collection management by a wonderful supervisor. She helped me develop the skills I needed to do my job, trusted me to do the work, and reminded me to enjoy interacting with the artifacts. It was a great summer that led to my enrollment in a Museum Studies Minor. In some ways it is responsible for my current career.
Despite my positive experience and my gratitude for the employment program, I have had more negative experiences working as a Young Canada Works (YCW) student.
For one job, I was hired to manage a historic site where my supervisor worked at a different location. He gave me complete freedom with little supervision aside from occasional meetings. Everything worked out …. but it was hard. I was not qualified for the job I was hired to do and was not given appropriate training. I had to manage to employees, which I had never done before. We offered tours and public programming while also serving tea and snacks in a small cafe. I had never provided a museum tour before, developed public programs, or managed a cafe. Although I could ask for help when needed, the impetus was on me to reach out. I am extremely grateful for the experience because I learnt so much, but I was not set up for success.
For another job, my supervisor did a lot of problematic things. For example, she told me the reason I was successfully managing a project was because I sounded like an attractive young woman on the phone. She made a series of racists and sexist comments, creating a toxic work environment. Feeling helpless, I reached out to the Board. From my perspective, they did nothing and I felt unheard. Next, I reached out to the organization running the grant to let them know what was going on. I also clearly outlined the issues in the reports I was asked to submit to the granting organization. They continued to fund my position the next year.
In short, I have had amazing experiences with student summer jobs funded through programs like Young Canada Works. However, the number of negative experiences out number the positive. In both negative examples, there were issues with how the positions were managed. I am learning that this is not an unusual experience.
DCM Project Examples
As noted above, I have seen some of my experiences with student employment programs reflected in the archival and interview data for the DCM project.
Like me, several people attributed their current careers to their experiences as Young Canada Works students with the Dawson City Museum. For example, one Interview Participant noted:
In addition to introducing them to the realm of heritage, student positions at the DCM have provided valuable learning opportunities in a supportive team environment. In their final reports, students wrote:
- “Wonderful people and dynamic learning environment” (2008).
- “I really enjoyed my job as the Education Program Coordinator at the museum. I think the summer staff was great and everybody worked really well as a team” (2006).
- “Everyone was more than wonderful to work with” (2003).
Student experiences at the DCM were not universally positive. In particular, a feeling of overwhelm and frustration about a lack of appropriate training or supervision is mentioned in several reports. Here are some excerpts from a guide and the program coordinator in 1994, which was a particularly challenging year:
I often discuss student employment policies as implicit cultural policies with advantages and disadvantages for museums. They are also valuable policies for the students gaining employment and experiences. However, museums have limited human resource capacity. Student both extend this capacity and have a human resource cost. Where organizations do no properly plan for training and supervision, they risk failing to meet policy goals related to student training and experience.
The limitation highlights an issue with using students to address gaps in human resource capacity – existing human resource capacity is needed. As such, some organizations will benefit disproportionately from the funding.
Do you have experience as a student employee or employer? How do the positives and negatives outlined compare to your experiences?
I am struggling to articulate the significance of these negatives and positives – do you see something that I missed?