SCHOOL’S IN: Post-secondary skepticism unjust

The decision isn’t about whether or not to go. It’s about getting the right credential to meet the needs of the job market

My husband always tells my son the story of how when he was a young adult, you could quit your job in the morning and find another job by the afternoon.

It was the 1970s and the economy in Alberta was booming.

Then came the 1980s recession and it seemed that overnight, jobs just disappeared.

Many young adults unable to find employment opted to go back to school.

Universities and colleges witnessed years of high enrollments leading many to increase capacity — mostly in academic programs.

This also made it very difficult for many students to get in as some programs were based on grades and the more students who applied the higher the required grade average to be accepted.

It wasn’t uncommon for high school students to need grades in the ‘90s to get into a lot of programs.

Although there are still programs that demand high grade averages, these tend to be a select group as opposed to just about every program offered.

So what makes this different from what’s happening today?

The most significant thing is there is a lot of skepticism among young adults on whether or not to invest in a college or university credential.

Although, interestingly enough , you don’t see the same skepticism when it comes to trades and technical training. Both of these careers tend to have good job outcomes.

Nor do you see this with degrees and diplomas associated with health care and engineering.

Most of the skepticism about whether to invest in post-secondary seems to be based on a number assumptions.

The first is the belief that baby boomers (those who have the best jobs) are not going to retire due to the sheer fact that they haven’t saved enough and can’t afford to quit working.

Low interest rates, overall increases in costs for basic living expenses such as groceries, companies shifting from defined benefit pension plans to contribution-based plans, and the elimination of the mandatory retirement age have all contributed to boomers considering employment beyond 65.

Freedom 55 is no longer. You don’t even see those advertisements anymore.

Young adults just don’t expect the jobs will be there once they graduate.

The other is an assumption (which is somewhat related) that youth don’t want to saddle themselves with high debt load if there isn’t a job waiting for them once they graduate.

You regularly hear about students graduating with high debt, well over $50,000, whereas the average of students who graduate with debts is about $22,000. In fact, about half of Okanagan College students complete their studies without debt.

There tends to be an overall sense that it doesn’t matter if you go to college or university or not.

Either way, you won’t find a decent job.

So where do we go from here?

The first thing is to realize that once you embark upon a career, that doesn’t mean you can’t shift into something else.

Education and training doesn’t always have to translate into a specific job.

A good example of this is someone who completes a trades program, gets their red seal certification and with some experience turns that job into a management position with a company that hires a number of trades workers.

Many of the most successful people I know tend to be the most creative and the most adaptable when it comes to how they use their education combined with the jobs they are willing to take.

Today, close to 70 per cent of the jobs in Canada require some kind of post secondary education.

In about 10 years, this number will probably be higher.

The decision isn’t about whether or not to go. It’s about getting the right credential to meet the needs of the job market and being creative about where and how you apply the new-found skills and knowledge.

Jane Muskens is the registrar at Okanagan College. Comments can be forwarded to