Underemployed & underpaid

Since 1992, the number of students graduating with a Bachelor’s degree has doubled

Graduating from Queen’s could mean more than a degree. It could mean a better chance at employment.

At the end of 2012, Queen’s graduates in Ontario had an employment rate of 88.5 per cent — 1 per cent higher than the provincial average of 87.5 per cent.

These numbers don’t take into account whether recent graduates are employed in their field of choice, and an influx of graduates has lead to an ‘educational arms race,’ says one University of Toronto professor.

Since 1992, the number of Canadian students graduating from Canadian post-secondary institutions with bachelor’s degrees or equivalents has nearly doubled from approximately 89,000 to approximately 160,600.

D.W. Livingstone, professor emeritus for U of T’s Department of Humanities, Social Sciences and Social Justice, said there’s no such thing as being overeducated.

“More education won’t create decent jobs,” Livingstone said.

For a large part, the increase in students graduating with Bachelor’s degrees was due to Canadian colleges starting to offer Bachelor’s degrees in 1999, but in the 2010-11 academic year college graduates only accounted for just over 3,000 of the degrees received.

Despite this, between 1992 and 2011, university enrolments for masters and doctorate programs and their equivalents rose by just over 66,000.

Brendan May graduated from Queen’s two years ago and joined the ranks of the 1.5 million employed 25-44 year olds in Canada with a bachelors degree almost immediately.

In 2012, there were 94,200 unemployed 25-44 year olds who graduated from a post-secondary institution with a bachelors degree.

“I realize how lucky I have been, that’s for sure, and anomalous to say the least,” May, ArtSci ’11, said.

May has been working for the publishing company Simon and Schuster Canada as an executive assistant for the last two years. It was an unexpected move for May, who had applied to graduate schools for a Masters of Industrial Relations.

“I would never, eight months before I graduated, have considered publishing as a career,” he said, adding that he can definitely see himself staying in the business for another five to 10 years.

After attending an informational interview earlier in his fourth-year, May was contacted by the company and hired prior to his graduation.

“My final exam was on a Friday, I moved out Saturday and I was at work on the Monday.” May said that while he wouldn’t say that anyone is overeducated, having so many people graduate with similar degrees does make things more difficult “I think that the base currency for a professional job now is a university degree,” he said.

He added that the skills he learned concerning managing priorities and deadlines were just as invaluable as what he learned in the classroom.

Samantha Ramsay disagrees. She believes there is a prevailing theme of those looking for jobs being overeducated and underemployed.

She’s finding that her English degree means that potential employers might not take her as seriously as she would like.

“I’ve found that when people meet me and find out I’m an English major, they think I’m maybe just sort of a dumb party girl who went to a good school,” Ramsay, ArtSci ’12, said.

“It’s frustrating when I know that I have the same skill set as some of the Commerce students, but I lack the vocabulary they have gained through their degree,” she said.

After taking a three-month marketing, advertising and film script consultation internship with a start-up company that never managed to take off, Ramsay is now working at a salon — a job she managed to get after doing some hair modeling for the business.

“The job market right now is bleak,” she said. “It’s difficult to break into a lot of areas unless you have someone who can relay you to [the person] who will give you the job.”

When Ramsay graduated, her dream was to travel and she recently returned from a trip around Thailand. Her current plans involve moving to Toronto for different post-graduate programs.

She added that many of her friends who graduated with degrees in Commerce and Applied Sciences managed to find jobs in fields where they’re relatively happy. Her friends who graduated from Arts and Science, however, are having a harder time finding jobs in their desired fields.

Ramsay said she absolutely wouldn’t change her degree, though.

“I learned a lot more skills [at university] which will make me a much better candidate [for a job] once I get another piece of paper that will make people take me seriously.”

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