By: Josh Cupit and Mah-Noor Mubarik
What’s a liberal arts degree worth these days? According to current studies, not much.
There is an overabundance of university graduates in Canada’s job pool. Recent statistics from Ryerson say that 49.7 per cent of students who graduated from a Ryerson arts program were still underemployed two years after receiving their degrees.
A new Statistics Canada study has highlighted the discrepancy between university graduates and the jobs that demand them. The study, Linking labour demand and labour supply: Job vacancies and the unemployed, said the average rate of unemployment in Canada has decreased by 3.8 per cent since 2015, while the number of job vacancies has increased by 18 per cent. Despite that positive trend, if graduates restrict their job search to openings requiring a university degree, there are 5.9 unemployed university graduates per job.
That means many graduates still struggle to find suitable employment. Some graduates say they feel frustrated over not getting the job they were trained to do.
“In the absence of the job, I have to take what is available so that I can feed myself and have a roof over my head,” said Aneesh Tiberias Murali, who works as a department administrator at Ryerson University.
His ambition is to teach history, but he said there are few positions available.
After graduating from Western University with a PhD in history, Murali encountered a severe job shortage. He and his colleagues had to rely on soft skills they picked up throughout their studies, he said.
Murali sees a shortage of jobs in liberal arts. He said that no part of his present career advances his ultimate goal of teaching and that sometimes, you’ve got to settle in order to survive.
“It is my hope (to teach), but you know hope springs eternal. I have to be practical with the reality of the situation,” he said.
He isn’t the only one who remains hopeful.
Despite the increasingly negative outlook on liberal arts degrees, Ryerson’s arts programs have grown steadily in step with the university as a whole. The only change in application trends is a marginal increase in the high school grades of incoming students.
In spite of troubling anecdotes of unemployment, Ryerson economics instructor Leo Michelis said the study doesn’t necessarily mean universities are producing more graduates than the economy can absorb.
“Labour markets are very competitive now,” said Michelis, “and a university degree leads to higher overall wages and long-term earning potential for its holder.
“It may take some time until you find your perfect match for a job. In the short run there may be some sort of discrepancies between what you know and what your skills are, and where you end up getting employed,” he said.
Andrew Hight, an arts and contemporary studies third-year class representative, shares Michelis’s outlook.
“We are all students. Of course we are going to work at retail or barista jobs. But that doesn’t mean we have to stay there,” said Hight.
The most recent rate of employment for arts and contemporary studies students, two years after graduation, shows that they have a 39 per cent chance of employment in a field related to their degree.Hight views the negativity as unwarranted. He sees value in a liberal arts education that goes beyond the immediate employment opportunities.
“We spend a lot of time learning the basics of humanities and how modern ideas were shaped by the past,” he said.
Maryam Oyawoye said after graduating from Bishop’s University’s social sciences department with a honours bachelor degree in economics, high expectations of applicants made it difficult to find a job. She found that every prospective job required two to three years of experience, or a higher degree.
After a year and a half of internships, Oyawoye is working towards getting a master’s degree at Ryerson in economics and finance in the hopes that she’ll finally find an appropriate job.
“It’s honestly been stressful and hectic,” she said. “But then knowing it’s going to be worth it at the end of the day, knowing that I at least tried, gives me a lot of satisfaction.”