Like many students who had lined up jobs and internships for this summer, Carlos Pena Vallecillo wasn't sure his opportunity was going to go ahead as planned.
Across Canada, businesses are being disrupted by COVID-19 due to many factors, such as the public health guidelines in place aimed at containing the spread of the pandemic including physical distancing measures, to corresponding government policies such as the closing of non-essential services. As a result, many Canadians have lost employment or have had to shift to working from home.
But for students hoping to gain valuable work experience or who may be facing student loan repayments, the potential loss of a summer job is bringing about an unknown future of a different kind. While much of the uncertainty for Pena Vallecillo was alleviated for the 21-year-old when he learned that his paid internship with TD would go ahead as planned this summer, he acknowledged that some of his friends haven't been so lucky.
"Students are really feeling it right now," Pena Vallecillo said in an interview from his home in Ottawa, Ontario.
"A couple of my roommates are graduating and don’t know if they can find a job and don't have school to look forward to in the summer or fall. There's a lot of uncertainty about what this all means for us. It has been scary."
Opportunity during an uneasy time
Pena Vallecillo, an environmental economics and public policy student at the University of Ottawa, is one of more than 375 interns or co-op students who were sent an offer letter in April confirming employment with the Bank from June 1 to the end of August.
These work placements support various business lines at the Bank across Canada and the United States, offering opportunities to learn about anything from project management, to helping improve processes for training around customer-facing products and services. In previous years, the placements typically last about four months, giving students time to build skills and make connections. This year all onboarding and placements will be done virtually.
"The creative thinking and fresh approach these students bring to challenges and every day processes, and their enthusiasm and energy are so valued," said Steve Knox, Vice President and Head of Global Talent Acquisition at TD.
"These interns really do teach us as much as we teach them. In addition to many of these students being incredibly talented, they are facing an especially challenging time right now, so we're pleased to be going forward with these employment opportunities.
"Our internship and co-op opportunities also feed into roles at TD after graduation, so continuing this program is especially needed to help students gain the experience they need to transition into their next phase of life."
Pena Vallecillo is one of 20 TD Scholarships for Community Leadership recipients. Each year, TD awards 20 scholarships to individuals chosen for the work they are doing to help better their communities, with up to $10,000 a year for up to four years for tuition, up to $7,500 for living expenses (also for up to four years), and summer employment opportunities while completing their undergraduate education. Pena Vallecillo is a 2015/2016 scholarship recipient and this will be his third summer internship with TD.
"I'm incredibly fortunate to have this opportunity," Pena Vallecillo said.
An idea turned success
Pena Vallecillo received his scholarship, in part, due to his idea to help bring together residents of Pelee Island (which is the southernmost populated point in Canada) with local politicians and stakeholder groups to raise public awareness about the level of algae blooms in Lake Erie.
"People from my high school and I came together to shine a light on the issue and discuss the health effects for humans and animals," Pena Vallecillo said. "We got a lot of media attention."
Pena Vallecillo also said he could see himself working for TD long-term someday. He said he has a long-standing appreciation for the brand since opening a personal banking account for himself in high school and chatting frequently with employees while visiting his branch in the small town of Leamington, Ontario, where he grew up. He said he may also like to help create environmental policies that could benefit the bank and the environment someday.
"During my first work term with TD I saw first-hand how well the bank treats its customers and employees," said Pena Vallecillo. "They take care of their people and are also financially helping me through school."
While he has yet to be sent a job description for his corporate placement, the details for which are currently being finalized, Pena Vallecillo said he's open to whatever opportunities are presented to him. Last year he got the opportunity to develop his people skills and increase his knowledge about the bank's corporate functions and is looking forward to new challenges this summer.
"I'm very fortunate," said Pena Vallecillo, recalling the day he shuffled out of bed late on April 16, admittedly reluctant to face what seemed like yet another ambiguous day, when he checked his emails and found that his summer internship placement confirmation arrived.
"I pulled out my phone and there it was," he says. "Getting that email was a big relief."