The following op-ed was published in the Ottawa Citizen, as well as on the websites of the Montreal Gazette, the Calgary Herald, The Province, the Vancouver Sun, the Regina Leader Post, the Saskatoon Star Phoenix and the Edmonton Journal on August 16, 2014
By Paul Davidson, president of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada
It’s been debated, misstated, mythicized and widely misunderstood for years. It’s been called a crisis, a lie, a disgrace and a blip. Now, finally, consensus is building about what exactly Canada’s skills gap is, and how we can fix it.
One million undergraduate students will soon be heading to university campuses across Canada for the fall semester, with another 700,000 students setting off for college. These young people need and deserve accurate and meaningful labour market information as they plan their future careers.
We may have turned a corner, in terms of understanding the problem and finding solutions, with two national skills summits held earlier this summer. Both gathered leaders in government, industry and education to reimagine the future of skills in Canada. At the National Skills Summit hosted by Employment and Social Development Minister Jason Kenney in Toronto, participants agreed upon the need for longer-term solutions and better collaboration among their sectors. And at the Skills for the Future symposium in Charlottetown, organized by provincial education and labour ministers, stakeholders discussed the need for higher skills across the labour market.
The dialogue is one that universities welcome. We know that Canada needs skills of all kinds – and that all skills need to be valued – if our country is to remain competitive in the fast-paced and rapidly changing global economy.
The real challenge is trying to predict Canada’s skills needs in the future, and preparing for them today. While the future of our country will be shaped in large part by the educational experience of today’s postsecondary students, Canada has so far failed to properly equip them with the information needed to make decisions about their own futures.
The most urgent priority in addressing Canada’s current and upcoming skills needs is for better labour market information. Students can’t make career decisions and governments can’t develop policy based on anecdote. We need the best possible labour market data drawn from reputable and reliable sources.
Secondly, we need an approach to skills development that includes all levels of postsecondary education. Yes, we need more graduates from apprentice programs, colleges and polytechnics. And we need more university graduates. Consider that Canada has fallen from fifth in university participation to 15th amongst OECD countries (for 25- to 34-year-olds). Trying to promote skilled trades by devaluing the benefits of university takes Canada in the wrong direction.
Think about the impact of media commentaries telling a whole generation of Canadians that their futures are bleak. It’s a corrosive and irresponsible message, especially when the evidence shows high employment and strong incomes for university graduates.
Energy and mining industries, for example, rely just as much on university grads as they do on college grads and skilled tradespeople, but for different types of jobs – including positions in engineering, management and community relations. Since 2008 in Alberta, 56 percent of net new jobs have been for university graduates. That’s almost double the number of net new jobs for college grads and more than triple those for tradespeople.
And finally, we must pursue more than short-term solutions for our country’s skills challenges. We have to look at what Canada will need five, 10, 20 and more years down the road and start preparing now. Narrowly defined skill sets aren’t enough. Employers already require a wide array of skills and abilities, including in technical positions. And many of today’s students will create businesses or be employed in new fields that don’t yet exist. We must equip all students to adapt, collaborate, lead and learn throughout their lives.
We’re taking steps in the right direction. Government, industry and educational institutions are doing more now to support experiential learning, which helps students transition to careers while also bringing fresh ideas to employers. Today, half of Canada’s university undergraduates have a co-op or internship experience before they graduate. But we can do more.
Getting the skills equation right is how we’ll equip a generation of young Canadians to achieve their potential and contribute to a new kind of Canada. In that respect, it’s hard to think of a better investment of our time, energy and resources.
The following letter to the editor was published in the Windsor Star, August 13, 2014
Carolyn Thompson’s piece, Higher education leads to higher student debt, Aug. 7, is misleading and unhelpful to students trying to make informed decisions about their futures.
Over the last decade, governments and universities have taken measures to offset the costs of education for students who are most in need. That means that in Canada, 40% of university students graduate totally debt-free. Of those with debt, 30 percent owe less than $12,000. Average student debt today is less than it was in 2000.
The data continues to show that a university education is a solid investment. Even in the face of economic uncertainty, the demand for university-educated employees is growing. Between May 2008 and May 2014, more than twice as many net new jobs were created for university graduates than for college and trades graduates combined (878,000 and 437,000 respectively).
A university degree is a path to prosperity. And this fall one million Canadians will head to campuses across the country to follow that path.
Christine Tausig Ford, Vice-president, Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada
OTTAWA – As summer winds down, Canada’s universities are preparing to welcome more than a million new and returning students to their campuses. The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada is happy to provide journalists with data and interview opportunities related to the start of the new study year and how Canada’s universities are preparing their students to be competitive in a mobile and globally connected labour market. Some points of interest:
AUCC President Paul Davidson is available for media interviews about the experiences and opportunities in store for students heading to university campuses this fall.
To arrange an interview or for more information, please contact:
Assistant Director, Communications
613-563-1236 ext. 238 or cell: 613-608-8749
613-563-1236 ext. 306 or cell: 613-884-8401
The Economic Club of Canada hosts Paul Davidson, president of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada
As students head back to class at Canada’s universities, join Paul Davidson as he tackles one of the most hotly debated questions in Canada today: What kinds of skills do young Canadians need to get a job – and build satisfying and productive careers? Mr. Davidson will take you behind the scenes to university campuses today and describe how universities are preparing young people for innovative and collaborative workplaces and what more Canada needs to do to produce these leaders of tomorrow.
Thursday, September 25, 2014
11:45 am-1:30 pm
The Fairmont Château Laurier (Room TBD)
1 Rideau Street, Ottawa
For more information on programming and tickets, including the purchase of corporate tables, please go to the Economic Club website.
This op-ed appeared in the Charlottetown Guardian on July 9, 2014 on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference
By Paul Davidson, president of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada
One hundred and fifty years ago, the Fathers of Confederation gathered in Charlottetown to reimagine the future. Another gathering of leaders in PEI this week won’t result in a new country, but it has the potential to reimagine the future of skills development in Canada and set us on a better path to prosperity.
By bringing together key players – provincial ministers of education and labour, educators and business leaders from Canada and abroad – the Skills for the Future symposium is an opportunity to explore solutions to our labour market needs, now and in the years to come.
Much has been said of the skills gap in Canada, but we have generally failed to get to the root of the problem and take action where real challenges exist. Unfortunately rhetoric has drowned out evidence, and anecdote has trumped data. This must change.
Getting things right in education and training for a more prosperous Canada will require three things: better and more accurate labour market information; an approach to skills development that includes all levels of postsecondary education – universities, colleges, polytechnics and trades; and stronger collaboration between government, educators and business.
Recent efforts to promote skilled trades by devaluing the benefits of university education take Canada in the wrong direction. Comments about how a whole generation of higher education graduates is lost are corrosive and unhelpful – especially when the evidence shows university graduates enjoy high employment and strong incomes.
Students can’t make career decisions and governments can’t make policy decisions based on myth or anecdote or a newspaper story about the situation in the U.S., where the system is very different from our own.
And we must resist the urge to focus on short-term needs over the next six or 12 months. We need to set our sights on what Canada will need five, 10, 20 and more years down the road.
I was very pleased to see a consensus on this issue emerging at the National Skills Summit in Toronto, hosted by Employment and Social Development Canada Minister Jason Kenney on June 25. Participating leaders from business, government and education recognize the need for longer-term solutions and to improve collaboration. Recent federal reinvestment in enhanced labour market information is a positive development.
Another important step is to realize that Canada’s skills challenges need to be met on several fronts at once. Just because Canada may need more plumbers or welders doesn’t mean it needs fewer university grads. In the fast-paced and rapidly changing global economy, we need more university graduates, more college graduates and more tradespeople if we are to develop the human potential of our country to its fullest extent. Today’s employers need high-level skills at all levels of operations – from the shop floor to the boardroom.
In fact, a recent CIBC study found that the most in-demand occupations in Canada today require a university degree. Yet we’ve fallen from fifth place in university participation to 15th amongst OECD countries.
Finally, government, business and educators have to create more experiential learning opportunities for all students, such as internships and co-ops. We have a good foundation on which to build. Today half of Canada’s university undergraduates have a co-op or internship experience before they graduate. Co-op enrolment has jumped by 25 percent in the last seven years, and more than 1,000 co-op programs are offered at 59 universities.
Universities are dynamic and responsive institutions. Some 45 Canadian universities have developed entrepreneurship degree programs and provide workshops, facilities, mentoring and other supports to students and researchers to help them commercialize product and service ideas.
Strengthening linkages between universities and employers in all sectors will further enhance the skills that graduates bring to their careers.
Close to one million Canadians will earn their first degree between now and the time we celebrate Canada’s sesquicentennial in 2017. Some of them will still be in the labour force when Canada celebrates its bicentenary in 2067.
If we get skills development right, we will have equipped them to navigate a lifetime of adapting to the labour market of the future – and ensured Canada’s prosperity for decades to come.