Education won’t create more jobs

Michael Ignatieff ignores the fact that there are already too many people with degrees


If you’ve been reading the funnies lately, and by that I mean the political pages, you know that the Liberals and Conservatives have been squabbling over the issue of corporate tax cuts.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and his band of brothers set out Wednesday to peddle the merits of “tax relief for job creators,” while Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff announced his pledge to roll back corporate tax breaks to 2010 levels if elected and instead invest in education. “We think the way to create jobs is invest in post-secondary education and help small and medium enterprises to become more competitive and take on more workers,” he said during a scrum.

If you ask the Conservatives, reducing corporate taxes will stimulate business investment, thereby encouraging growth and competition. According to Jack Mintz, head of the public policy school at the University of Calgary, the tax cut from 16.5 per cent to 15 per cent will generate an estimated $30-billion in investment funds and 102,500 new jobs over seven years. However, according to the Liberals and some labour economists, Canada’s corporate tax rates are already internationally competitive. They argue that the cut will hurt Ottawa’s bottom line and will not necessarily amount to real long term benefits–which is a fair point, in my opinion.

But while Ignatieff’s pledge might spawn warm fuzzies in the hearts of students and professors, it is misleading in several ways.

The idea that pumping more money into post-secondary education is a way to create more jobs ignores a fundamental condition of unemployment among new grads in Canada. While American president, Barack Obama pitched the same idea during his State of the Union address, the educational barriers in this country aren’t nearly as dire as they are the U.S. in terms of financial responsibility. Contrary to what some blue-in-the-face placard-pumpers might tell you, if you want a post-secondary education in Canada and you’re bright enough to pass a few tests, you can probably get one. The number of university enrollments has been steadily increasing over the past several years, meaning more and more individuals are getting post-secondary degrees. Therefore, the problem in Canada is not a poorly-funded system resulting in a lack of access, but rather, a surplus of educated people.

This surplus means that there is increased competition for jobs. A Statistics Canada study looked at university graduates in 2001 and found that nearly one in five worked a job that required a high school education at most. Many other grads nowadays still struggle to find work in their fields. Take teaching, for example. In 2010, the Globe and Mail reported that while about 6,500 new jobs for teachers becomes available in Ontario annually, the Ontario College of Teachers certified 12,774 new teachers in 2008, and another 9,100 in 2009. That’s a lot of competition for a few coveted positions.

Throwing money at post-secondary education won’t fix these problems. If anything, it will just exacerbate them.  Without strategic stipulations as to how and where the funds are to be invested–for example, with a focus on education of in-demand fields such as skilled trade–we’ll just have more competition and less valuable degrees. So while investing in education sounds a lot more lovely than giving so-called fat cats another break, its tangible benefit may lie simply in warm feelings, and not job creation.


Education won’t create more jobs

  1. “So while investing in education sounds a lot more lovely than giving so-called fat cats another break, its tangible benefit may lie simply in warm feelings, and not job creation.”

    OR it could result in a generation of workers that isn’t neck deep in debt before they even hold their first jobs.

    To an extent you are right – because of the public loans system almost everyone can get into the system and pay for it using those funds – it’s the debt crisis which has followed the creation of this student loan system. A whole generation of workers who cannot afford to marry, have children, purchase homes, etc… is a crisis waiting to explode.

  2. Ignatieff thinks Taxpayers should subsidize overseas work experience of young people because it will ‘benefit’ taxpayers back in Canada.

    He must also still believe that living & working & paying taxes to other governments for 30 years and then returning to Canada when you’re old to have Taxpayers pay for your old age is a plus for Taxpayers.

  3. “Therefore, the problem in Canada is not a poorly-funded system resulting in a lack of access, but rather, a surplus of educated people.”


    Have you considered that investments in post secondary education could go towards improving the quality, rather than quantity, of new graduates? This is especially important in more technical fields and in research and innovation, where better trained individuals can make a big difference in the results you get from them.

    Increasing enrollment can still help create jobs if you target in the right areas, too. If Canada is producing scads of highly trained computer scientists and engineers, software companies will locate here, and the same is true for many other fields. Beyond that, huge numbers of engineering students go on to start their own companies after graduation.

    Do you the outstanding electrical engineering program at Waterloo had nothing to do with Mike Lazaridis’ success founding Research in Motion? What about Jim Balsillie studying commerce at the University of Toronto?

    Education is about more than just a line on your resume, it’s about acquiring useful skills that help both you and your employer succeed. I think your article completely misses that.

  4. Pingback: Education won't create more jobs – – Macleans OnCampus

  5. Well put, Ryan. Robyn’s summary is naive, at best.

    The state of research in Canada is absolutely dire. SSHRC and NSERC granting rates have plummeted due to lack of funds, not lack of great ideas. Universities are not just degree factories. They conduct an extraordinary amount of R&D for the public and private sectors that result in money going back into the system.

    Moreover, the state of the classrooms in Canada now mean that most undergrads are taught by transient part-time workers who have no real investment in the university or the students. The numbers of students per faculty member keep going up with no end in sight, and workloads keep skyrocketing.

    We can do a LOT to improve the quality of the higher education system in Canada. And ‘throwing money at it’ will, indeed, solve a whole lot of problems!

  6. Robyn,

    Nice provoking piece – not thought provoking, just provoking. I’ve read more interesting things on bathroom walls. You should to the University Rankings too. Pathetic.

  7. Robyn,

    Nice provoking piece – not thought provoking, just provoking. I’ve read more interesting things on bathroom walls. You should (do) the University Rankings too. Pathetic.

    p.s I guess going to university for that proof reading and spelling degree was not going to end up in a job. DAMN YOU IGNATIEFF!

  8. We need to develop some higher order thinking and that can only happen with a revamping of the higher education system. Iit is no longer the elite system it used to be. a Bachelor degree is the equivalent to a grade 12 graduation now because we need to know so much more just to survive in this knowlledge based economy. Its true that most undergrads are taught by sessionals although our program requires us to teach undergraduates in a post graduate program. And for those of you who are worried about anything foreign….the Canadian government still gets taxes for those who work abroad.

  9. Unfounded, unsupported and misguided articles like this are why I don’t subscribe to Macleans, and rarely visit the website. I wish I had those 2 minutes back. A hack job, and not a particularly good one at that.

  10. The number of degree educated people doesn’t necessarily reflect the level of useful education. There is little doubt there are lots of students studying degrees with little marketability.
    Therefore focus on getting the skills necessary to compete in the wage market Canadians should be interested in seems sensible.
    Adjusting the loans/grant system to ensure we get what the country or province needs would be harsh but sensible if someone really wants to study a low marketability degree then make them pay more SK already has schemes in place to guarantee jobs for the best skills.
    Subsidizing students to travel and work abroad is crazy attracting more foreign students to come to Canada would be a much better idea as educated people always have a positive influence.
    There is little logic and almost no real evidence that low corporate taxes attract quality companies and quality jobs. The logic is that small and medium sized industries many times take larger income out if taxes are lower and reinvest if taxes are high as most people would rather buy plant than pay tax so higher taxes and larger write downs work better.
    But their ideology always engages before they put their mouth/brain in gear.

  11. This blurb is making an erroneous assumption that post secondary education is not worthy of increased investment because there are already few jobs available. Sorry to inform you but that is a narrow “employee” mentality.

    As a university graduate with a Masters degree, instead of applying or competing for a job, based upon my training of thinking creatively I established several small businesses over the 40 years of my career. In one business I had 400 employees.

    I became a net employer thanks to my education. My family had blue collar union roots that could not support me financially.

  12. I cannot believe this piece. I own a small IT consulting business and I cannot find qualified people with the education necessary to do the work our customers need. Our business has doubled this year. We have more work than we can delivery. We are hiring people from India to do the work because there are too few Canadians qualified to do the job.

    Stop spouting this nonsense that there are too many people with degrees. And, also, stop putting words in Ignatieff’s mouth.

    Do you think that the skilled workers in the trades are going to just be picked up as apprentices out of high school. Welders, machinists, electricians all need EDUCATION to accelerate their availability to the job market.

    If you think businesses are going to make the 7 year investment necessary to take someone from high school and turn them into a skilled worker, you are out of your mind.

    Harper and his high-tax, high-spend, ignorant peers are not going to convince me that stupidity and ignorance are the way to a profitable future.

  13. Already too many Canadian students are aimlessly cruising through university degrees at great cost to themselves (not to mention to the taxpayers who bankroll their loans). Large numbers of these students will graduate with no job prospects in the fields they studied. This is all staggeringly wasteful.

    I live near a university and often see students sporting “Lower the fees!” buttons. But sinking more money into education — especially via tuition subsidies — will only drive up post-secondary costs further, while decreasing the value of the the degrees that the students ultimately obtain. This doesn’t help anyone, except perhaps the universities themselves, who’ll be thrilled at new government money destined for their pockets.

    We’re trapped in a vicious circle, and nobody has a serious proposal for getting out of it.

  14. Another failed attempt at good discourse. When did Maclean’s hire such tools for writers?

    Hey Robyn, don’t worry someone educated will be gunning for your job soon.

  15. SSHRC does not need more money. What they need is to use their money better.

    I know, because I’ve been a university student for years. I just got my masters.

    SSHRC needs to stop giving money to cultural marxists in humanities programs and instead give it to people who can actually do some good – scientists, economists, maybe business students.

    Ryan is misrepresenting Robyn’s argument here. The point is not that education doesn’t provide skills. Rather we need to dissect what the really important skills are – the ones that will spur the economy – and invest there. Not just blindly throw money, which is what the liberals want to do.

  16. Garbage.

  17. Further to reading Robyn’s blurb in relation to some of the comments, it appears that the term post secondary education in the minds of many seems to be a “trade school” graduation of rote learning with a very narrow and specific industrial job market – i.e. jobs to be filled. Well, okay let’s add doctors, lawyers, accountants to that job list…

    But, what western economies need today are new businesses that open up our minds to new techniques which in turn hire employees.

    Our supply of tar sands oil extraction is finite – what follows the internal combustion engine when we run out of this natural resource?

    Do you remember life before the computer? There is no job market for dreamers, yet we need dreamers…

    The job creators today are thinkers, entrepreneurs, risk takers – one doesn’t need a specific course to teach those skills yet simply by forcing oneself to learn new ideas and try to apply them in a University setting where one is challenged – that is the hot bed for thinking-outside-the-box mentality that creates new ideas.

    For example, an MBA degree is designed to create an employee mentality to fill a job opening in business management – might it be argued that an MBA is almost a hindrance to creativity?

    Please leave your ideology at the door – provide educational space for new opportunities to evolve.

  18. Well that does it. We will just have to make access to higher education a privilege of those who can afford it while the economy sinks further into hewer and drawer status since 2005. We should create a conservative nanny state like the the one mired in recession to the south of us.

  19. Sorry, your argument only proves one point. That graduating more teachers won’t create jobs. Just because one faculty is graduating too many students does not prove the point that education isn’t a key component of job creation. This country needs more high paying jobs, creating any job is not good enough. Take Walmart’s plans for expanding the number of Supercentres in Canada. That is supposed to create 9,200 jobs, most of which pay barely over minimum wage. The resources need to be focused on areas that create high paying employment, not general tax cuts that will encourage expansion of large, low-paying corporations. The Ontario universities should not be graduating 15,000 teachers when there are only going to be jobs for 6,500 of them. Yet medical and nursing programs constantly reject thousands of qualified applicants annually due to limited spots in their programs. It’s poor allocation of resources. The big problem is narrow minded politicians who think that there is one route to solving the problem. It will require a focused effort to add education funding in the areas needed, and corporate incentives for the correct industries to create a lasting solution.

  20. Unless something drastic has changed (and I doubt very much if it has), the rate of graduation from a 4 year university program is actually a lot lower than most people might expect.

    According to a senior department head I know the stats haven’t changed much over the years; Of 100 kids who start grade one, less that 3% of them actually graduate from a 4-year university program.

    We need and want educated people in Canada. I can’t tell you how easy it was to pick my choice for mayoral candidate in Calgary’s last election. Naheed Nenshi, who has a Commerce degree from UofC and is a Harvard University Masters graduate from the John F. Kennedy School of Public Policy, dwarfed his two main opponents on this qualification alone (The other two had High School diplomas).

    Give me educated people ANY DAY!

  21. hey robert,

    If ideology is left at the door..what have you smuggled through? Unless you’re a neoliberal and you didn’t even know it. Shame…that’s 101 for a 19 year old policy student. Before you discriminate against MBAs…it’s easy to see you’re uneasy with your obsolescence. Go back to school, you might learn something.

  22. @Stephen B I think you are totally right on this one; there are too many Art degree out there. Since Hard-Core degrees like Engineering are among the hardest fields to specialize in. More and more people are looking for a easy way out of university and with that kind of degree, at most they will just end up a normal office worker. None of which will be able to work in the IT Business. No offence for the normal office workers.There are 2 fields this world needs badly, IT and Skill workers. The rest are just overflowing. The last thing I think would be to encourage the “start up of small businesses”.
    Without enough encouragements, all of those people out there on the street with a business degree won’t be able to start up a business. Either the loan interest rate is too high in the bank or none of his friends and family will be able to support.

  23. Robyn,
    This issue is more complex than “we have enough educated people” as you put it. The reason we have so many educated people without work is that the good Research & Development jobs for highly educated people are being kept out of Canada by the same corporations that are getting the tax cut. I am against the tax cuts because we, the taxpayers of Canada, are giving away free money to corporations without any guarantees that they are going to improve their business or hire more educated people. So in fact our problems would persist while the paycheque of the CEOs will get fatter. We either keep that money and invest in our future in R&D or stipulate that the corporations, depending on their business, should put aside certain percentage of their revenues for R&D to ensure that they will improve. There are no major pharmaceutical companies that do research in Canada, even though they sell their products here. Many tech companies are consolidating their research outside of Canada. Research laboratories of Nortel will probably be shipped out too. Canadian government spends only 1/7 of US government per capita on research in postsecondary education. That means that US government spend more than 60 times more than we do on R&D, that’s apart from the amount of money spent by major corporations. So it would be a good thing if we spent a little more on R&D in our universities: it’s for the future of our children and not for the corporations that have no attachment to Canada.

  24. “Ryan is misrepresenting Robyn’s argument here. The point is not that education doesn’t provide skills. Rather we need to dissect what the really important skills are – the ones that will spur the economy – and invest there. Not just blindly throw money, which is what the liberals want to do.”


    I never said that that was her point – it’s simply an issue that she fails to adequately address. Beyond that, both you and Robyn misrepresent the Liberals’ position on post secondary education. Just because post-secondary funding is a priority for Ignatieff (or any party or individual) doesn’t mean that he’s advocating the “shot gun” approach of just firing money at the system and hoping for the best. Take a look at the Liberals’ platform from 2008 on PSE. The bulk of the spending was targeted at covering the indirect costs (ie labs, support staff) of research for Universities – something that would make a huge impact for the quality and quantity of research Universities are able to conduct.

    I’m not trying to be a Liberal cheerleader here either. While I am a Liberal supporter, I’m not so blind as to not recognize the strides Harper’s government has made on funding those research costs as well. The point is that more can be done, and just because you want to put more money into education does not mean you intend for that money to be spent badly.

  25. I’m not here to rag on Robyn either – I read her articles quite regularly and generally find them very enlightening. I just don’t agree with this one.

  26. Does nobody want to state the really obvious point here?
    University is not, and nor has it ever been, about getting students employment. If you want ‘a job’, go train for a trade. University is about personal growth and creating well-rounded citizens who understand the world that they live in.

    @Jaked: Do you even know what SSHRC is? Your argument doesn’t make sense, given their remit.

  27. writer: probably about the time they started looking at degrees instead of actual work.

  28. Well this speaks to my thesis, death by education. In the short span of a generation, higher education, is seen as an antidote to everything. Jobs that used to be attainable based on skill alone, now require as minimum, in addition to the prerequisite B.A. a certificate of specialization. The implied value that more education makes a better worker..not necessarily, just one burdened by more debt to obtain the education. No where does education ensure character, work values, ethics or honesty, thinks sadly lacking in our culture at large..so in order to find a job, I join the ranks of those getting an MA..here’s hoping that education, will ‘save’ me..but pardon me, if I doubt it..thanks Iggy and Obama..and where in god’s name are employers that screen for things that matter.

  29. judy: There’s no nuclear holocaust. You can come up to the surface now.

    Being facetious only highlights your petty ignorance.

  30. Of course college is about getting a job, unless you’re a trust fund kid. And too many junk courses exist in the curricula. The solution is not more funding. They have to get along with the funds they’ve got and use them more efficiently.

  31. Today’s education system serves to stall people because Baby Boomer corporatists have abused this generation for excessive profits and have rationalized jobs to a point that there are not enough jobs to go around. This is a form of a control system to keep people in their place wanting and docile. This is what has been happening in the Middle East for too long, and now the young people want to take back their countries from the corrupt Baby Boomer corporatist crony governments that have been abusing them for years. In North America this abuse is called “AMUSING THE POPULATION TO DEATH with useless garbage, gadgets and fun and games to paraphrase Neil Postman and in order to keep the population docile,obedient and wanting.

  32. There are lots elitist out, I see. Not all post-secondary education involves getting a degree. The trades are a post secondary education and we need lots of trades people. So if you want your tap fix, concrete mixed or electrical wire wired, you better put a lot of money into that sector of post-seccondary education.

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