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Post-secondary education still the ticket to better jobs

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It is almost one year since the B.C. government unveiled details of its plan to re-engineer the post-secondary education (PSE) and training system.

The Liberal government’s “Skills for Jobs Blueprint” will see additional funding directed to expand capacity to educate/train people in high-demand occupations – and fewer dollars available for programs in other parts of the system. An important factor behind the revamp is a belief among policy-makers that the “supply” of and “demand” for skills are out of alignment in the contemporary labour market.

While there are differing views on the B.C. government’s blueprint, the worry over skills mismatches is legitimate. One sign of this is a pattern of “over-qualification” among PSE graduates, including those with university degrees. A 2014 Statistics Canada study shines a light on the issue. Based on an examination of the 2011 National Household Survey, supplemented with data drawn from the 1991 and 2006 censuses, the study reports the following results:

In summary, a few key messages emerge from the Statistics Canada study.

First, over-qualification among young adults with university degrees is quite common. As of 2011, close to one-fifth of all university graduates in Canada aged 25 to 34 were working in jobs requiring only a high school diploma, according to Statistics Canada’s system for grouping occupations by skill levels and educational attainment.

Second, immigrants are especially at risk of finding themselves over-qualified. In 2011 more than one third of immigrant men under age 35 with non-North American university degrees, and 43 per cent of women, were working in jobs demanding only a high school diploma, compared to 15 per cent for Canadian-born men and women in the same age cohort who had also completed degrees.

Third, Canada’s labour market is dynamic. Regardless of where they start in the job market, many university graduates eventually migrate to positions and types of work that are more closely linked to their post-secondary education. And most people with masters, doctoral and professional degrees are employed in occupations that seem to match their areas of study.

Finally, taking a longer-term perspective, there is strong evidence that a post-secondary credential, particularly from a Canadian or U.S. institution, remains a good investment. For most young adults, completing a PSE program is still the ticket to better jobs and higher incomes over the course of a working career.

Jock Finlayson is Executive Vice President of the Business Council of British Columbia.

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Jock Finlayson

The Business Council of British Columbia aims to produce timely and exceptional public-policy research and advice on issues to enhance BC’s competitiveness and prosperity.

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