Employment Anxiety and Other Symptoms of a Graduating University Student

Guest Blogger: Chris Martin, Director of Research, Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance

As you read this, students across Ontario are walking across the stage of their convocation hall, shaking the hands of robed administrators and accepting the piece of paper they’ve toiled so many hours to achieve. In the moment, the pride of accomplishment of a difficult task is what dominates the graduate’s mind. However, once the applause fades, the pictures are taken and the robes are returned to the school, one question looms large: “what do I do with a bachelors degree?”

The question is accompanied by a sizable amount of anxiety, brought on by worried parents and media commentators lamenting the fallen value of a bachelor’s degree.

I don’t know a single university student that hasn’t worried about a failure to launch; the scariest of scenarios involving a life of living with parents, perhaps clocking in shifts at the local Starbucks.

The worrying is so intense that it has inspired in-depth explorations in major national media sources. It was just a few months ago that CBC launched “Generation Jobless,” a documentary filled with students unable to find work, living in these sorts of scenarios.

As a recent university graduate who studies student employment for a living, I’ve become intimately familiar with this anxiety. I’ve also become aware of a potent antidote to it: data. The story on employment outcomes for recent graduates is mostly good news, with a tiny spot of bad.

Figure 1 University Graduates

Lets get the bad news out of the way first: it’s very true that youth employment rates have fallen over time for recent post-secondary graduates, from 80-85 percent in 1990 to 70-73 percent in 2012.

This is due mostly to the fact that universities and colleges have more than doubled their enrollment in the past decade alone. More competition equals a tougher time breaking into the labour market.

Here’s the good news: despite the increased competition, a degree is still extraordinarily worth it. The long-term employment rates for university graduates are strong; more importantly, they’re stable.

Figure 2 University Gradute Guest  Blog

In 2012, Ontarians aged 25-44 with a university degree had an 86 percent employment rate.

Year-to-year fluctuations in this rate have been minor, especially compared to college diploma programs that train graduates for specific jobs. As it turns out, the generalized skill set taught in university (yes, even in arts programs), has produced graduates that have remained highly employable even throughout recessionary times.

Undeniably, things are harder for us Millennials than they were for our parents.

For the student graduating today, increased competition means that a degree will not guarantee a job. Universities will undoubtedly need to do a better job of giving graduates an idea of how to utilize their skills in the labour market (Co-op positions, practicums and other experiential activities can be of great use to this effect).

However, historical data shows that university has allowed generations before us to adapt well to a changing world, better than those that have tied their post-secondary education to the needs of a particular industry.

As our societal problems become more complex; as new industries emerge and old ones fail; communication, critical-thinking and problem-solving abilities will become more necessary than ever. In such a world, I believe today’s graduate will do just fine.

The Canadian Millennials Research Project

In 2011 Abacus Data launched its Canadian Millennial Research Practice to help Canadian businesses, associations and government ask the questions they need answered about my generation, the right way.

Abacus Data welcomes Guest Blogger Chris Martin

Chris is a recent graduate of McMaster University, where he studied political science and film studies. Chris has been actively involved with policy development at OUSA since attending his first general assembly in 2008. Before serving as Director of Research, Chris served as Vice-President (Education) of the McMaster Students’ Union, as well as a research analyst at OUSA. Chris is passionate about making higher education policy relevant and relatable to students, and contributes to the Globe and Mail and MacLean’s On Campus. Chris also publishes on a regular basis to OUSA’s blog, available at OUSA.ca.