Posted March 29, 2013
Why do we have people without jobs at the same time that we have jobs without people?
The federal budget has correctly stated that we have a skills mismatch, and has offered substantial financial support to employers and provinces that want to address the issue.
But why does it occur? It is not for lack of spending on education. Primary and secondary schooling are free. Post-secondary education is subsidized, especially for community college and for post-graduate degrees. Is that money being well spent?
Some students do not finish high school or do no post-secondary, and have high rates of unemployment. But many who have completed their university degrees also find themselves unemployed or underemployed.
Universities show only a passing interest in the vocational relevance of their undergraduate programs. Look at how they advertise themselves:
“World-class education. Legendary Maritime charm… Dalhousie continuously fosters academic innovation, in pedagogical practice, program objectives, curriculum design and degree structures.”
“St. Francis Xavier University offers what so many of Canada’s top students are seeking — a high quality education, in a vibrant residential setting.”
“At Acadia University, you will make friendships that last a lifetime. … You’re about to enjoy the first big adventure of your life… At Acadia, we teach you to question. Our faculty members will challenge you to think critically. To debate and engage. And to enjoy intellectually challenging academic programs.”
In other words lots about academics with a hint that the social life is pretty good.
By way of contrast the Nova Scotia Community College advises that the number one reason for attending is the “High employment rates – 87% of grads are employed, most in their field of study, one year after graduating.”
Universities do not seem to be as interested in learning about or sharing the employment outcomes of their graduates. In 2009, the Maritime Provinces Higher Education Commission reported that 81% of graduates had full time work two years after graduation. Of these, 24% felt over-qualified for their jobs.
A prospective student looking for this data would not easily find it. And it appears that the MPHEC stopped doing the surveys three years ago. Perhaps that is because some programs such as education have dreadful rates of placement, particularly within Nova Scotia.
Of Nova Scotia’s annual 400 Education graduates, a few will find jobs here in private schools (where ability is allowed to take precedence over seniority) and a few more in the public sector, if they can teach high school math or science in the French immersion stream. The majority will have to leave the profession or leave the province.
More broadly, most Arts graduates find it difficult to get a job that reflects their academic attainment. This is not to disparage the value of an Arts education, which can provide a wonderful grounding in critical thinking about society’s issues. It usually takes further education or training, however, to get a good job.
Meanwhile, the federal government reports expected shortages of engineers, miners, construction workers, and people who work in Environmental Sciences as well as Information and Communications technologies.
In short, if the purpose of post-secondary education is to equip students to find employment it is not especially effective.
Much better results are achieved in Germany, where two-thirds of young people begin an apprenticeship in one of 342 recognized trades. Those who complete the program (close to 80%) have excellent employment prospects.
Participation in apprenticeship programs has grown rapidly in Canada, but completion rates are dreadful, consistently under 10%.
So what is to be done? First, the province must focus on making apprenticeship programs successful for participants. The new federal program may create an opportune time to do so.
Secondly, students considering their post-secondary choices should be better informed about their employment prospects. The province should take responsibility for compiling and sharing employment outcome data, particularly to those applying for student loans.
Third, the province should let employment outcome data influence its choices about spending on higher education.
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