There has been a tremendous buzz in the media lately about unemployment, the lack of skills and how universities aren’t preparing their graduates for the world of work. To be frank, I take it all with a grain of salt. While there is no doubt that unemployment is a problem, I am still an old fashioned believer that students should pursue their passions and a university degree opens doors. In 2010, University Canada published an entire series of articles about the value of a university degree (http://www.univcan.ca/media-room/publications/the-value-of-a-university-degree/). On average over their lifetime, university graduates earn $1.3 million more than high school graduates and $1 million more than community college graduates. The National Center for Education Statistics (nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_tba.asp) publishes rates of employment by educational level and the university graduates and again university graduates are well ahead of other educational paths. Similar results are found by the U.S. bureau of Labor Statistics (http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_chart_001.htm).
The issue for the vast majority of students starting university is that they aren’t yet ready to choose a specific career path and that’s okay. University is a place where students can explore their passions. For years, I took annual road trips to universities to chat with my former high school students. A key question I often asked was “What are you studying now?” Inevitably, the vast majority would tell me about a fascinating course or professor they experienced which changed their path. I am pleased to say that virtually all of them are highly successful and employed. You see, whatever they studied, they learned valuable transferable skills which have opened doors for them.
The Conference Board of Canada has published the Employability Skills 2000+ (www.conferenceboard.ca/topics/education/learning-tools/employability-skills.aspx) and broken down what are the skills which are needed in the workplace. Their fundamental skills are: to be able to communicate effectively, manage and utilize information, understand numbers and be problem solvers. These are not new ideas, having been around for at least a decade or more. I would add that students need to be computer literate as well. What I like about the Board’s list is that it goes beyond the fundamental skills and also suggests personal management skills are also required. Positive attitudes and behaviour, responsibility (which in my mind includes ethics), adaptability, safety and a passion to continuously learn are all important to one’s success. Finally, the Board also stresses the necessity for teamwork skills, our ability to work with others. Honestly, any university degree provides the opportunity to develop all of these skills. It is important for the student to ensure that their growth in each of these areas is clearly documented on their transcripts and their résumé.
As I watched my two daughters progress through university, I had one who always knew her ultimate career goal and the other who spent a great deal of time exploring and discovering her passions. Both used their university experiences to move into the successful careers they are now pursuing. As the counsellor dad, I just had to support, encourage and be patient through all the discovery process.
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA