Lost but Not Alone

As I sit and write this post, I’m staring at the wash of first-year undergraduates pouring by the library on the University of Waterloo campus. I find it hard to fathom how many of us there are. Newly-minted university students and graduates are, of course, the subject of many recent news article and public discussion debates on the value of a university education.

The National Post’s article highlights the skill gap that has left the so-called “lost generation” unable to find jobs in their field (McDowell, September 2nd, 2013). This article states that young high school graduates are receiving misguided information about the job market, and entering programs of study not suited to the current employment circumstances. In seeming rebuttal, The Globe and Mail published an article (authored, I should mention, by the president of Wilfrid Laurier University and chair to the Council of Ontario Universities) that universities should focus on the non-skill aspects of a young person’s development and higher-level thinking abilities (Blouw, September 3rd, 2013).

As a university student and graduate, I can comment on both of these articles. My problem with the article in The Globe and Mail is that it ignores the fact that university education is massively expensive and time-consuming when compared to college-based, vocational degrees. How can equal opportunity be provided to everyone for higher-level thinking opportunities? It is possible, if not highly likely, that university education will become unattainable for forthcoming generations of students and the massive debt loads carried by current generations of students will affect them well into the future (Kelly, September 4th, 2013).

This also ignores the emotional side of going through a university program, working very hard to complete it, and then graduating to dismal employment prospects and the majority of employers telling you that you’re not properly skilled (ibid). The article in The Globe and Mail assumes that employers should be the ones responsible for training graduates (Blouw, September 3rd, 2013) – but this ignores the current fiscal climate and the fact that many places of employment don’t have the money to provide training for new employees. Quite literally, employers are looking for someone who is able to ‘hit the ground running’ and provide immediate gains for the company.

I admit that I am one of “those students” who is seriously concerned about the value of my university degree. I know that there are many others who support my views; it’s just unclear what we should do about it. The Canadian Occupational Projection System (COPS) is one of many sources of data on current and expected employment prospects – but everything’s out of date, the world is changing too rapidly to understand and respond to. We need a dramatically new way of thinking, learning, and employing workers in these times of constant uncertainty.

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