The latest Labour Force Survey released by Statistics Canada shows that once again it’s the younger Canadians that are hardest hit by the country’s tight job market. Unemployment for this group has been stuck at double the national average since the start of the recession.

As a 24-year-old bachelor of arts grad with a degree-related full-time job, health benefits and vacation time, I am an object of envy for many university-educated twentysomethings who have hit a roadblock on the highway from backpack to boardroom. As a new crop of graduates finish their final exams and begin to compete for full-time employment, here are three reasons why undergrads may soon find themselves unemployed.

Universities produce unprepared grads, study says

In a 2012 survey completed by The Chronicle of Higher Employment, 31% of all employers polled reported that grads are unprepared or very unprepared for their job search. More than half of all polled employers reported difficulty finding qualified candidates for the job, citing oral and written communications, problem solving, organizational and project management as sought-after skills. Rated as more important than major or academic standing is an internship or employment experience, a must-have resume credential for recent grads according to survey respondents.

University grads have unrealistic employment expectations

Like many university-bound students, I assumed that any degree would get me a steady, well-paying job. But with an increasing number of university-educated Canadians and (according to the 2011 book Campus Confidential) a university system that accommodates lazy, “entitled” students, a degree is no longer the ticket to guaranteed employment.

Campus Confidential authors Coates and Morrison (two Canadian professors) argue that universities are meant to be places of higher learning: “the meeting place for brilliant young minds and accomplished mentors.” In reality, argue Coates and Morrison, many students are completing their university degrees with the minimal amount of effort (and the maximum amount of socializing), leaving them with few desirable skills. For example, employers surveyed in the above-mentioned study cited basic oral and written communications and decision-making skills as traits that postsecondary institutions need to work harder to produce in graduates.

Rather than blindly pursuing a university degree, Coates and Morrison urge students to consider less glamourous, more practical alternatives to higher education, such as skilled trades programs that teach tangible skills leading to specific employment outcomes with steady job markets.

Blue-collar jobs vs. white-collar unemployment

Though the Canadian education system is one of the best in the world, a disconnect between education supply and workplace demands contribute to Canada’s 14.2% youth unemployment rate. With an estimated 40% of all new jobs being in the skilled trades and technology industry by 2020 (according to the Conference Board of Canada), university-bound high school students should be asking themselves not what they want to major in, but whether or not they should be applying to university at all. Not only can an electrician or a plumber make just as much or even more per hour than someone working an office job, skilled trade education costs can often be offset by paid apprenticeships and government funding. Trades jobs also offer steady, more predictable job markets; regardless of the next tech trend, people will still need haircuts, toilet will need fixing and houses will need wiring.

It’s said that there is no such thing as being overeducated or overdressed, but many Canadian twentysomethings are just that. While university students are getting away with writing essays on books that they didn’t read, steady blue-collar jobs are going unfilled and university-educated grads are lucky to find full-time employment working as a waitress. Whether universities are institutions in place for the purpose of career preparation or intellectual stimulation is debatable, but there’s nothing smart about spending thousands of dollars on a degree that doesn’t give a good return on investment.

Would you have pursued something other than a university degree if you could do it all over again? Let us know in the comments.


Nicole Wray is a member of Generation Y and a regular contributor to Workopolis.