University ‘Demagnetizing’ Graduates and Employers

A couple of weeks ago, the Toronto Star published a feature addressing the challenges university graduates face when finding jobs. Their report said that 20 per cent of young Torontonians are unemployed.

In part, the blame may be put on the less-than-demanding labour market, but liberal university education is also responsible.

Universities are more focused on general education rather than training students for a skill-specific career.

Are recent university graduates prepared for a career? (Courtesy of Wikicommons)

Are recent university graduates prepared for a career? (Courtesy of Wikicommons)

The startling reality that university graduates are struggling to find jobs has become a popular discussion in the news recently. This is because university fails to prepare students for the working world. But, not to worry, it does teach the importance of a well-placed semi-colon and the correct way to outline an essay.

Similarly, a Statistics Canada report said that the average university graduate is $28,000 in student-loan debt. In part, the blame may be put on the less-than-demanding labour market, but liberal university education is also responsible. For the amount of money students spend, a university degree is supposed to have value.

But does it really?

At the corner of Church and Shuter streets, a block from Ryerson University, a billboard advertisement for George Brown College reads: Be An Employer Magnet. And that’s the problem. University is the Starbucks’ skinny-vanilla-syrup latte and college is the Tim Horton’s double-double coffee.

One is more fancy, more expensive and, as coffee enthusiasts may say, more of a specific taste. So why do people spend the extra money on Starbucks lattes? Well, there’s a certain status that comes with holding a Starbucks cup.

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Similarly, parents, teachers and society say that a fancy, expensive degree will lead to a better-paid career, which will lead to a happier life. But, now, as student debt and unemployment are on the rise, is that true?

Associate dean of community and early childhood studies at Humber College, Lisa Teskey, said that college prepares students for a professional designation.

“You are not necessarily prepared (for a career) when you graduate with a university degree,” she said.

According to Statistics Canada, in 2012, 14 per cent of people aged 15 to 24 were unemployed. And of those who were employed, about 50 per cent are working either in sales, retail, food service, clerical work or are cashiers. Somehow a gap has grown between university graduates’ expectations for their future and the realities of employment.

What’s shocking is that Statistics Canada reports about 75.5 per cent of Canadians have a university degree. So, it’s easy to say, university needs to think about abandoning the general, liberal education in favour of training students for the job market.

But what happens to the students who enjoy the taste of a Starbucks latte, regardless of price? As a paying customer, if that’s what a student wants, that’s what a student should get. And in no way should university seize to exist.

But, these days, the labour market is seldom looking for the next CEO of Apple (in fact, the original CEO, Steve Jobs, didn’t graduate university). Case in point. There’s a need for university to serve both: the Tim Horton’s double-double and the Starbucks’ latte. This way, allowing more students to be an “employer magnet” with a more skill-specific education.

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