Seventy-five per cent of Canadian students enrol in programs that only 10 per cent of employers hire from. It’s time for a change.
I first realized there was a problem with the way Canada transitioned its youth from post-secondary school into the workplace in early 2005.
I was in my final year at Queen’s University, soon to be a graduate with an arts degree and no job prospects. I surveyed my friends and acquaintances on campus – all of whom were ideal candidates for their dream jobs – and found that many were planning to apply to teacher’s college, take the LSAT, or travel abroad. For most, this was a mechanism to delay their entrance into the job market.
Opting to attend grad school, I spent the next year earning my M.Sc. in economic history at the London School of Economics. There I learned that the trouble facing Canadian students and grads in search of meaningful work was not mirrored in the UK, where circumstances and a multitude of services facilitated a much easier transition.
Post graduation, I moved back to Canada and, in 2008, launched TalentEgg.ca – a website designed to implement some of the UK’s efficiencies in Canada. While TalentEgg.ca has succeeded in many ways, the transition from school to work for Canadian students is still a mess.
In fact, according to a study of 17 countries that fall under the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Canada boasts the highest rate of youth underemployment. Almost one quarter of employed Canadian youth feel they are overqualified for their current jobs. Our youth unemployment rate is equally disappointing, with 14.3 per cent of Canadians between the ages of 15 and 24 unable to find work at all.
This shocking and unacceptable employment environment exists because there is a systemic problem with the way we transition our youth from school into the workplace. We encourage students to pursue post-secondary education with the expectation that when they graduate they will be able to find meaningful employment. But we facilitate a system in which, according to Statistics Canada, more than 75 per cent of students enrol in programs or institutions that – from our experience at TalentEgg.ca – it seems only about 10 per cent of employers are willing to hire from.
We can’t point the finger solely at universities – they are not career preparation schools. Nor can we point the finger solely at employers. Faced with the option of hiring a business grad who is already trained in finance, marketing, or accounting, or hiring an arts grad who has a history degree and no practical educational training, nearly all employers would choose the business grad. Not only that, why would an employer hire a business grad from a “regular” institution when he or she could hire someone who graduated from one of the handful of schools that have top-tier business programs?
I have many ideas on how we can address this problem as a country, but, regardless, the solution to this problem cannot come from just one party. It will need to involve the co-operation and collaboration of all players – including parents, students, career educators, employers, and the government. And it will take time.
It’s critical that we find a solution to this problem – not only to alleviate the financial and emotional burden that unemployment and underemployment cause youth and their families in Canada, but also to avoid the waste of talent and intellectual potential that will occur if we don’t allow Canadians to perform at their best.
As a starting point, we at TalentEgg.ca have launched Student Voice. Student Voice is a petition of sorts, created with the aim of raising awareness of this issue in Canada by empowering students to have their say. Instead of a traditional petition, which asks only for signatures, Student Voice leverages the power of the web to include stories, pictures, and video – giving life to the problem by illustrating the real-life experiences of students and grads.
The people behind TalentEgg.ca are passionate about this issue. But the Canadian government and employers should feel passionately about it too. Our ranking in terms of youth underemployment is cause for concern, as is the looming “baby boom retirement” – an issue that was of great concern before the economic downturn but seems to have fallen off the radar since. We need to do something today to better align the goals of students, educators, and the government. If we don’t, we will (continue to) suffer the consequences.