The myth of the unemployed university graduate

New statistics counter the popular narrative


Rhetoric class at the University of Winnipeg (Jessica Darmanin)

The unemployed university graduate is everywhere these days, from CBC’s Generation Jobless documentary to the cover of Maclean’s.

Since the recession, so the story goes, almost all 27-year-old university graduates are sitting in mom’s or dad’s basement playing Guitar Hero, firing off job applications and ranting on Facebook about how they’d be better off as plumbers.

This has become such accepted wisdom that when Allan Rock, president of the University of Ottawa, argued in a speech last week that it is, in fact, a myth, the Ottawa Citizen saw it as news.

Newly-released Statistics Canada charts of unemployment rates by education among 25 to 29-year-olds back up Rock’s point. Last year, university graduates were more likely than anyone else in that age group to be employed and just as likely to be working as the same age group was back in 2005 when no one fretted about jobs.

Of course, the doom and gloom didn’t just magically appear. The job market did get noticeably worse for university grads after the market crash of 2008. Their unemployment rate went from 4.7 per cent in 2008 to 6.6 per cent in 2010. College graduates and tradespeople fared slightly better over that period, but still felt their unemployment rate rise from 5.0 per cent to 6.4 per cent.

Since the recovery, as the new figures show, university graduates did better. Their unemployment rate fell back down to 5.8 per cent in 2012, just 0.1 per cent off from where it was in 2005.

Meanwhile, college graduates and tradespeople saw their rate fall just slightly to 6.2 per cent in 2012, making it—contrary to popular myth—higher than that of university grads post-recession.

That said, there’s not much difference between 5.8 per cent and 6.2. The scarier gaps are between those with post-secondary credentials of some kind and those with none. In 2012, high school graduates had 8.8 per cent unemployment and those without high school were at 16.4 per cent.

Another common refrain is that the class of 2009 was scarred for life by the recession, but it looks like most of them landed on their feet post-recovery. A very large survey of 2009 graduates in Ontario found that 93.1 per cent were employed by 2011. That’s not exactly a jobless generation.

Wages, however, are one area where university graduates have lost ground in recent years. That same Ontario survey found that 2009 university graduates earned $49,151 two years after graduation, while their peers from three years earlier made $49,468 two years after graduation.

This stagnation in the quality of jobs may explain some of the frustration. Some university graduates are likely settling for lower-rung jobs that they would have avoided in the past.

Either way, one thing is clear. Rock is right that most university graduates are working.


The myth of the unemployed university graduate

  1. —I am very grateful that my son was able to find full-time employment in his field of study, after university but it wasn’t instantaneously,…and, he struggled at other unrelated jobs to keep himself going. Now, he is saddled with a huge unrealistic student loan debt that he is trying to be responsible about. Most graduates can and will find employment, eventually, if they hang on and keep trying, but I cringe at those I have heard talking about not taking the jobs that come along nor bothering to pay back their loans, etc., because they think they are ‘special’ and deserve that ONE special job and shouldn’t have to pay for their education!! I am all for free education for those deserving, but sometimes I wonder what these kids have learned?

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    • Its not true that Canadian education is worthless. It very much matters on the field.
      I’m not sure how “economic corruption” (whatever the hell that is), international students, or “workers” are somehow to blame for university grads not finding jobs. I frankly have no idea what you are talking about there.
      And obviously if people are having trouble finding jobs in their field of study, then Canadian universities need to start accepting fewer students, and not more.
      Pretty much every sentence of your post is complete nonsense.

  3. Yeah, I believe this propaganda piece as much as I believed my teacher Ed instructors who told us teaching jobs would become available in 2 years. By the way, the stats for Ontario teaching/graduates is roughly 17,000 new teaching candidates a year for 900 new jobs. Its a joke, and so this is article.

  4. Your article mentions employment stats for youth but not whether those statistics accounted for training related employment. The point I got from Generation Jobless etc. was not that young people are necessarily unemployed, but that they are employed in jobs unrelated to their post-secondary education and, in many cases, jobs that required no post-secondary education at all.

  5. Most of the graduates will find a job, they do it often by “detour”. What leads to success is their ability to speak and write well, their analytical and synthetic approach to realities, their willingness to remain open, flexible and creative in presence of new challenges, and, above all, their propensity to invest knowledge with imagination. Many graduates develop these abilities by taking “useless” courses in humanities.

  6. This article mentions nothing about whether these university grads are working in their field, and whether they are working full-time permanent or contract (part-time or full time) positions. The article also mentions that university grads earn $49,151 two years after grad. Can I assume this is an average? Is the decrease in this average the result of an increase in grads taking on lower paying contract positions in order to get their foot in the door? Or just to be able to pay off the debt accumulated through 4+ years of post-secondary education?

    I think this article raises more questions than answers, and really doesn’t prove the assertion that successive economic downturns haven’t hurt our university grads.

  7. I think it’s marketing time for university to enroll as many students as it could. So they have to pump up the stats first. Yes. Everyone will get a job. The unfortunate part is the grads have jobs which dont need their 4 years “investment”. The government and university are running like companies now. Welcome to the Corporation of Ontario, the Corporation of Ottawa, the Corporation of University of Toronto. Temporary Foreign Workers Only!

  8. This article is meant to calm the waves of anxiety that students and parents feel about post-secondary education today. I agree it’s a joke of an article with little substance. I am a university graduate, 2 undergrad degrees in the 80’s but couldn’t find employment in my fields. Things are even tougher now.
    Now my almost-adult kids are wondering – should we go to university? They ask while witnessing their generation make decisions about what to do after high school – work, college or university? Their peers are struggling financially and also on a very emotional level. No – not those in college or working but those in university. Alan Rock has his own interests at hand as do all executive heads who try to spin reality to conform with their vision of PSE future. It’s a tough world out there no matter what you decide to do – but insinuating that university will bring you a better future,is absolutely untrue.

  9. Can I just point out that most of the people I graduated with were 22 at our undergraduate Convocation? That’s a lot of time before 25-29 to be struggling and unemployed and to look to the future with a hopeful eye. Furthermore, now everyone’s expecting us to take unpaid internships so that we have some real-world training or experience, y’know, pay our dues so that we can then get “a good job.” It’s bull, just like this article. Thank you for making me feel even more hopeless about my current situation.

    Mirror, I understand exactly what you mean about foreign workers – I recently spent time in Toronto looking for work and got to know a lot of people from the UK, NZ and Oz with very similar resumes and skills who are here on one or two year working visas. They were gobbled up pretty much immediately by the same companies I had been applying to. I know it sounds very right-wing and nationalistic (and, arguably, naive) but I honestly think priority for Canadian jobs should be given to Canadian citizens.

    Financially, it feels like things are spiraling out of control for me at the moment and I don’t even have a horrible debt load because I was fortunate enough to earn a full-tuition scholarship to a really great school. It just didn’t prepare me for the real world whatsoever, and I think that’s the hardest part of this whole university degree scam.

  10. you go to school .. u spend time and MONEY then u finish and then you work in a TIM HORTENZ or do something unrelated .. my friend finished master in electrical engineering here in Canaeda in one of the best canadian universities and now shes been doing something unrelated just to pay off the osap

  11. I find this article unconvincing and very selective in its use of supporting data. The comments section is far more enlightening. It would be reasonable to think that Macleans might approach this topic with a biased view. After all, they publish the very lucrative annual Maclean’s University Rankings guide … no point in undermining a cash cow.

  12. Post secondary education is great investment. What’s held back my career is the lack of a degree. It gets harder to compete later in life when all you can show is a diploma and your competition has a B.Sc, or a B.A. I was lucky to have a job offer before I graduated from college but my earning potential is not at the same level as most University grads in the same field. Education is a tool or skill set. If you can’t find employment in your field it may simply that in you location those tools are not in demand. I have a child entering University in the fall. She has been careful to chose a career path first then the program to gain the tools required for that path. The hard part, as for anyone, is determining if there will be demand for that career when she graduates. I have a number of colleagues that could not find employment in their field after University. They went to college afterwards to gain some skills that employers were asking for. It seemed easier for them to sell the college skills first and then take advantage of the degree in developing their career later. I’ve interviewed many of recent grads over the years and found a lot of people are unemployed for a reason; unprepared, spelling mistakes in the resume, lack of interview skills. It’s easier to find a job if you already have one. Working at Tim’s is a job but it does not prevent you from continuing the search for a job in the field you are looking for. Walking into an interview with a resume that shows no work activity for the previous two years implies not only unemployed but perhaps unemployable.

  13. I am currently a University student. What I feel with the little experience I have, most University students tend to think that University degree is the only thing they need to have a bright future. I’ve been researching on this and there is a lot more to it. Networking is the key to getting employed. Usually University life is very tough and doing anything along seems like loosing your grades, but considering the competition, you have to network and make relationships. One big factor of getting employed is to plan your career and target the job you like. Research the skills your employer will be looking for. Get involved on campus in activities you think will help build up your resume. Most Schools have peer tutoring that is useful for future teaching, leadership courses useful for managerial positions, research experience useful for science related jobs. In short there are many activities available. I think you will be better off if you know what you are doing and be realistic about it.

  14. The article is a joke, I agree. Employeed – part time, at McDonalds when you have a bachelors degree with honours in public policy and administration is a typical situation I see. Graduates whose parents had connections work in their field, even if underqualified. Meanwhile, most university graduates are under-employed, like me working in retail, jobs that do not even require a highschool diploma. The worst about working minimum wage is that they play with our hours.

    My friends who went to college, unlike university, are working in their field. In college, the colleges are given government funding based on their placement rate, so co-op programes are a must, and students have internships, mentoring. The whole culture is different, professors who know job postings notify their class. In university, you can beg your professors, they will not help you. University funding, unlike colleges, is not related to whether you find a degree/gradschool placement after you finish.

    I think this article doesn’t examine where college/trades students work vs where university students work after a year. It is simply not true. I know Harvard graduates in Canada who worked retail, and found a job instantly when they returned to the US in their field. In Canada, it is who you know, not what you know, that helps you find a job.

    Students are stupid in universities: they study hard instead of party hard and network. The partiers end up with the jobs, and those who study hard end up at McDonalds. Those who party have a larger network, and more likely to have people connected to local jobs in that network. It destroys one’s prospects of grad school but after gradschool, you won’t be able to find work anyway.

    My university Carleton discouraged me to work in Co-op. The one opportunity I had to work someonewhere, they refused to let me take as they said I should work more on my thesis. When I graduated with honours, I asked them what should I do to find a job in my field (I am from a different city, have no local network). They said, “go to http://www.google.com” I am almost thirty, have worked in retail as I have been applying since I graduated. I am seriously considering leaving Canada, teach in Japan or something and never come back.

    My hours at my retail job are so erratic that I can’t make the rent this month, and it is so painful to try to make the sales quota as I am an introvert by nature. We have to beg and get rejected all the time. I asked my manager what I could do better, they said, “Be a sociopath.” I then noticed the best sellers were also the meanest and worst individuals. The sales quotas set are impossible, and it isn’t a fit but I need to eat.

    My family can’t help me, so I just hope I am not kicked out of my apartment. I am considering social housing for the first time in my life as sometimes I work close to fulltime on minimum wage, 25 hours a week, sometimes, I work 4 hours every two weeks. The daily search for food messes my head up so much, it is harder to focus on applying but I still do. Sometimes I have enough hours to make ends meet, sometimes I don’t. I feel suicidal, and have attempted suicide in the past but it never works. That it is one thing I suck at, so I gave up on suicide. I wish I could reach to my network, but I studied hard, so I don’t have much of a network, and most are in the same position as me.

    The statistics are skewed. College students wait until they are employed in their profession, which they usually are. University students are employed at McDonalds, Tim Hortons, Payless Shoes, etc.

    Maybe they should study employment in one’s field for a change?

  15. hahahhaha new world order propaganda, the media lies, dont u get it??

  16. I think the jobless generation is a problem of the FUTURE rather than of the present. I think something people need to start considering is the exponential and unsustainable growth of human population (NO this does not have to do with immigration) and not just that, but think about it for a minute. How do you intend to provide jobs for everyone when we encourage technological advancements, which create machines that take away jobs? In this system there can never be 100% employment. If everybody wants a peaceful and sound life, you might have to give up your filthy wasteful lifestyle and adopt something more reasonable and principled. When each person or each family had a trade and a business of some sort, more people were employed fed and happy, and NOT by means of material junk. Ya’ll either need to rethink the system or leave it to those who will.

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