We were happy to be able to welcome 20 Waterloo co-op students onboard for the summer work term. 

If someone had told me that teenagers in masks would be showing up in the lobby of my building and that I would be handing them laptops, I never would have believed them.  But in these strange times, that’s how we onboarded our new summer co-op students. Of course, they will all be working remotely from home.

We recognize that these are very tough times for Waterloo students and students everywhere. Some government money helps, but it can’t possibly be a solution for the amount of lost economic activity that occurs when you idle a third or more of the workforce. Printing money or taxing those who remain barely solvent to pay people to stay at home is not a viable solution for much longer. Let’s hope that things return to close to normal very quickly.

Right now, the global economy is suffering a crisis of confidence and uncertainty. Businesses of all sizes remain unsure to what extent the world will return to normal when this ends. Will enough people keep working from home to fundamentally change the demand for gasoline, automobiles, parking, and the office coffee service?  Will social distancing requirements permanently close clubs and theatres and opera houses? Right now, people are unsure, and this prevents businesses from investing, spending, and ultimately hiring.

This isn’t the first economic crisis that has affected young people and employment. My first work term was in 1985, and we were only just ending a prolonged recessionary period.  My engineering colleagues in older years had struggled to find good work term jobs. I remember mechanical engineering students whose first work terms were spent bagging groceries in small town Ontario and working on farms. Full employment for Waterloo co-op students would take another year or two to achieve.

There is no doubt that starting your career in an economic recession is a significant challenge. But it also helps you learn some valuable lessons that will serve you well throughout your career as an employee, manager, and — for many of our talented Waterloo co-op students —  as the business leaders of tomorrow.

Unfortunately, many businesses will not survive this crisis. Many of the businesses that will survive and thrive are run by people who have lived through and learned the right lessons from previous economic crises.

In these tough times, I would encourage Waterloo co-op students and other students to be brave, work hard, and accept life’s risks and uncertainties as best they can.  But also, to make the best of a bad situation and learn as much as they can: it will serve them well moving forward in their careers and in life. And I hope for their sake that the business community and older generations make good decisions and don’t let them down.

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