Other than the lucky few who really do become rock stars, the path to the future
as a grown up is straight, narrow and predictable: go to school, get into
university, land a decent job.

But before rushing off to get that degree in English Literature, wise high
school students and their parents might want to listen to an influential group
of US-based economists who are pushing for alternatives like vocational and
career training or corporate apprenticeships. This makes good sense in Canada,
where the bulk of skilled workers – plumbers or electricians for example – are
nearing retirement age.

“It is true that we need more nanosurgeons than we did 10 to 15 years ago.
But the numbers are still relatively small compared to the numbers of nurses’
aides we’re going to need. We will need hundreds of thousands of them over the
next decade,” economist and professor Richard K. Vedder, told the New York
Times. He’s the founder of the Centre for College Affordability and
Productivity, a research nonprofit in Washington. According to US stats, of the
top ten growing job categories only two require university degrees: accounting
(a bachelor’s) and postsecondary teachers (a doctorate). But this growth is
expected to be tiny compared to the need for registered nurses, home health
aides, customer service representatives and store clerks – jobs where a
bachelor’s degree is strictly optional.

Further, this coterie of contrarian economists parade evidence such as
statistics showing the high likelihood that no more than half of those who began
a four-year bachelor’s degree program in the fall of 2006 will get that degree
within six years – that’s a lot of time and money spent with no degree, or job
opportunity, to show for it.

In this country, about two thirds of all job openings over the next several
years will be in occupations usually requiring postsecondary education, but that
can mean college or apprenticeship training, not just university, according to
studies by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. The two areas facing
imminent labour shortages? Management (what with all those Boomers retiring) and
health care.

The HRSDC suggests shortages will mean an acute need for physicians
(obviously this requires a university education), therapy and assessment
professionals, head nurses and nurse aides (which may not). Other health
occupations, such as registered nursing assistants, audiology technicians,
physiotherapy technicians and medical radiation technologists, are also facing

Outside of the health care system, the HRSDC predicts shortages in oil and
gas drilling and services, home builders and renovators, contractors and
supervisors in trades.

So, while a university education may still be its own reward, it is no longer
the one and only way to a bright shiny future. In fairness however, for most of
us, it remains a better bet than rock stardom.