Co-op student Benjamin Lemphers on a job site during his work term.

One of the outstanding key features of the Dalhousie Planning program is it’s required MPlan work term. However, it has proven difficult for students to secure employment amid the economic and social changes in the world as a result of COVID-19.

Acting Director of Career Services for the Faculty, Tiffany MacDonald, emphasizes that with many businesses slowing, staff layoffs, and general economic uncertainty, student employment has been left in a precarious position. “It is a scary time for students entering their work term. Some who had secured employment have had offers revoked. Other opportunities have evaporated.”

However, planners tend to understand the importance of supporting a community and ensuring the heath of their profession and are stepping up to make a difference for MPlan students. “The community is scrambling to support them and make sure they get the experiences they need to fulfill their graduation requirements”, says Tiffany.

One example of this is Halifax’s PBJ Design. Known for their #PlayMeHFX pianos, their mission is to energize communities by turning everyday places into unexpected destinations through art, activities and events. Founded by Planning grads Jeremy Banks (BCD ’17) and Peter Nightingale (BCD ’17) and later joined by Alyson Dobrata (BCD ’19), the not for profit group has been a casual employer of summer students for several years.

This will be the first summer they employ MPlan co-op students. Rather than pulling back amid the COVID-19 crisis, PBJ has committed to two student positions and pending additional financial capacity through government wage subsidies, is hoping to fill a third. “Our work allows students to explore a topic of interest to them, explains Alyson Dobrata. “They learn skills such as how to design a community project, how to seek partnership and write grants for funds, as well as coordination and promotion work for installations. It is an excellent experiential learning opportunity.”

Tiffany agrees. “It’s just such a wonderful example of alumni supporting students from their program while making a positive difference with the work they do in the community”.

The School of Planning has also committed to supporting the MPlan class of 2021. Faculty members have pulled resources to offer summer employment within their research operations. The School itself has hired twice its normal capacity for research purposes. “This has been a challenge, remarks Professor Patricia Manuel.” Particularly because this is the largest MPlan co-hort in the School’s history!” Additionally, The Licensed Professional Planners Association of Nova Scotia (LPPANS) has rallied its membership for student employment leads, and students have explored their personal networks for creative and meaningful connections to planning work in their extended communities.

“Not everything has solidified”, says Tiffany. “We are still waiting on confirmation around the details of government programing. However, I am confident that a high proportion of the MPlan class will be successfully employed this summer and we may be one of few units able to claim this.”

Tiffany, who is currently filling in for Joanne Firth who is on Maternity leave, is amazed by the way the Planning community has come together. “A few weeks ago the picture was bleak and I was concerned”. I am so impressed by the School of Planning, the community, and what they have achieved here. It is a really success for the School.”

If you are interested in exploring the possibility of hiring a student to address your organization’s planning needs, please get in touch with Tiffany: We have a number of fund leveraging partners and can work with you to identify the programs you are eligible for.