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Stop blaming young people for being unemployed
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Stop blaming young people for being unemployed

 

Young people who are unemployed or underemployed have good reason to feel that everyone is blaming the victims.

Winnipeg's Tec-Voc High School trains students and young adults for jobs in Manitoba's aerospace sector.

FILE PHOTO / TORONTO STAR Order this photo

Winnipeg's Tec-Voc High School trains students and young adults for jobs in Manitoba's aerospace sector.

 
 

Young people who are unemployed or underemployed have good reason to feel that everyone is blaming the victims.

Caught in the growing mismatch between the career opportunities that exist today and their own education, they’re repeatedly told they should have studied programs that would prepare them for the available positions.

But how much support do students and parents actually get when it comes to planning for their careers? I would argue they get very little help.

Governments don’t do a particularly good job forecasting labour market demands or communicating the information that is available about career opportunities. And much of our post-secondary education system is focused on getting increased enrolment wherever possible, regardless of what will happen to those young people after they graduate.

The result is that 17- and 18-year-olds, supported by their unknowing parents, dictate the composition of our workforce. It’s an approach that is not working.

First, our labour market information system needs dramatic improvement. Currently, the data provided tends to be dated, incomplete and overly simplistic.

In 2009, economist Don Drummond chaired a panel of five to provide Canada’s labour market ministers with advice on how to improve the country’s information system on the labour market. But few of the panel’s recommendations have been implemented and the information available to the public is weak.

Second, government funding of post-secondary education is driven primarily by enrolment. This means the post-secondary system has become addicted to enrolment growth and the tuition revenue it brings.

Institutions actively recruit and compete for as many students as they can get because their financial future is dependent on that revenue stream. If students can’t find exactly what they want – say, a bachelor’s program with no math, science or language requirement – all they have to do is look around to find an institution that provides it regardless of the academic merit involved.

According to Statistics Canada, there are more students enrolled in post-secondary humanities programs than science, technology, engineering, math, computer science and information science combined.

So even though post-secondary attainment levels are rising, so are the skills mismatches, increased student debt, falling productivity levels and increasingly frustrated students and parents.

Thirty years ago, it might have made sense to focus on sending increasing numbers of students to university. However, we now live in an age where university graduates make up 15 per cent of the full-time enrolment at colleges and more than 50 per cent of the colleges’ part-time enrolment.

This trend is likely to continue. Experts such as the Conference Board of Canada and Human Resources and Skills Development Canada project that more and more of the jobs of the future will be filled by those who have technical and/or applied skills training.

Governments and educators need to explore proactive steps to help guide more students.

For example, maybe businesses should be creating targeted funding for students who enrol in programs with high labour market demand. Perhaps governments should not be “fully” funding programs that have neither a direct link nor pathway to some type of employment.

Should we be labelling our academic credentials differently? In Europe and in some polytechnic institutions in western Canada, properly constructed three-year post-secondary programs offer degrees, rather than diplomas. Perhaps that should become the norm in Ontario, as well.

Finally, governments should be aggressively investing in programs that better reflect our labour market needs.

No one wants to see a system of central planning. But students and their parents need help in making good career decisions. Our political, business and educational leaders need to play a greater part in helping young people – and our country – chart our labour market future.

 

Dr. Rick Miner is a labour market analyst, a former president of Seneca College, and the author of the People Without Jobs, Jobs Without People series of reports. He will be issuing a new report, The Great Canadian Skills Mismatch, in a matter of weeks.

 

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