09/17/2014 12:41 EDT | Updated 06/16/2017 00:55 EDT

How Can Canada Help the Unemployed? Focus on Colleges

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The most recent report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has once again confirmed that Canada's colleges are responsible for the country's impressive post-secondary success rates.

The OECD report, "Education at a Glance, 2014," found more adult Canadians have a post-secondary education than in any other country in the developing world. And it credited this to Canada's robust college system.

The report is the latest evidence that shows a fundamental shift in the way people view post-secondary education. Growing numbers of students and parents feel it is essential that higher education lead to career success.

That's why record numbers of students are choosing college.

Full-time college enrollment has grown significantly in recent years, with Ontario's colleges currently serving more than 220,000 full-time students and 300,000 part-time students and clients. Students are taking programs that prepare them for a variety of careers, including advertising, business, paramedicine, hospitality, game development, biotechnology and much more.

Our programs are aligned with the new economy. Key Performance Indicators that are independently gathered each year for the provincial government show that -- even in this current economy -- more than 84 per cent of Ontario college graduates find work within six months of graduation.

Andreas Schleicher, the OECD's director of education and skills, was quoted in the Toronto Star saying the many opportunities to pursue a post-secondary education in Canada are one of the system's strengths.

That is truer than ever today. In fact, Ontario has seen a huge increase in the number of students pursuing a combination of both college and university education. In the last five years, the number of university graduates enrolled in Ontario's colleges has increased more than 40 per cent.

These students are captured in Statistics Canada data as university grads only, but in point of fact many get the jobs that lead them to good careers after coming back to college and supplementing their university credential with a college one.

With youth unemployment and underemployment remaining at stubbornly high levels, Canada must build on the success of its college system.

In Ontario, one of the most significant changes that government can make is to expand the range of career-specific degree programs at colleges.

Currently, Ontario's post-secondary system is not keeping up with other countries. In most OECD nations, people that graduate from three-year post-secondary programs are awarded degrees.

In Ontario, however, graduates of the three-year college programs must be awarded diplomas -- even though many of those programs are already aligned with provincial and international standards for baccalaureate education.

Students in Ontario should have more opportunities to pursue cost-effective and efficient degree programs with a career-specific focus. Ontario should allow colleges to offer three-year degrees, and expand the range of four-year degree programs that are already in place at many colleges.

Colleges are central to the country's economic success. Our colleges are ready to play a larger role in helping greater numbers of young people find rewarding careers.