The fall back-to-school period is always so infused with optimism.
The fresh-faced first-year students descend in droves in cities around the province eager to start their academic journey, and many of those approaching their final year begin thinking of the first steps toward their careers.
For those of us who wonder what happens to graduates after convocation, in Ontario, the provincial government very helpfully commissions an annual survey that tracks them for us.
The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities' graduates' survey by CCI Research Inc., asks more than 72,000 students who graduated from undergraduate programs at Ontario universities whether they were employed six months after graduation and two years after graduation.
They are also asked about their salary levels.
The graduates don't all answer of course, but one third typically do, and that gives us a good snapshot of life after school for many of them.
Of those who did respond in 2013, 87.4 per cent said they were employed six months after graduation, with 93 per cent on average reporting they were in jobs after two years. In many programs, employment rates were as high as 95 per cent two years out.
When it came to earnings, the average salary was $42,636 six months after graduation, and $49,398 after two years.
Students, parents and employers might have wondered then about criticism from some quarters that university graduates are somehow not measuring up the way they used to.
"Recent university grads increasingly jobless," a media headline recently declared. The article went on to say that graduates are doing worse on almost all measures of employment compared to those who graduated before the recession.
One pundit called the income figures "scary."
It's time to put those commentaries in their proper perspective with two very important facts.
Very Important Fact One: Everyone, regardless of education, faces more difficulty getting jobs during and after a recession. That's the reality of the labour market during recessions, and who can deny that Ontario is slow to recover from an economic recession that crisscrossed the globe. That's not the fault of universities.
Very Important Fact Two: If you are looking for work in the middle of an economic recession, or in the aftermath of one, best to be a university graduate. This educational group has the best labour market outcomes and is the most resilient in economic downturns.
Let's consider the data. Across Ontario in 2013, the average unemployment rate in the 25-29 age bracket was just 6.5 per cent for university graduates. That figure was 6.7 per cent for college grads, 10.8 per cent for graduates of the trades, and 10.3 per cent for high school graduates. http://www.cou.on.ca/publications/reports/pdfs/cou-university-works-report---february-2014
The point is that universities are still doing an excellent job of producing an educated population ready to take on whatever the workplace demands, despite a difficult economy.
Of course an economic recession diminishes opportunities, but as the economy rebounds so do those opportunities. This cycle played out in the economic downturn of the mid-1990s, and it is playing out again today.
Suggesting otherwise isn't helpful to anyone and has to be discouraging to those working hard to get an education.
Give the economy time to recover and our highly skilled workforce will continue to fuel economic growth that benefits us all.
Whether you are starting your academic career this September, or preparing to enter the workforce after completing your degree, I urge you to consider this: it was true before the recession and it is true now -- the skills learned at university will lead to a rewarding career and fulfilling life.
Be patient, your university degree will take you wherever you want to go.
Bonnie M. Patterson
President and CEO of the Council of Ontario Universities, and a lifelong learner.
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