Are Canadian students getting the right degrees for the market? Or are they training for positions that, while they pay well enough, are radically over-supplied — guaranteeing low employment rates for new graduates? It’s the flip side of the skills gap issue, and the answer comes from labour market data. To see what that looks like, we drilled down on data about Montreal’s education environment.
Understanding the Importance of Context
When we took a recent in-depth look at Canada’s major cities, to get a sense of what sorts of high-paying careers were adding jobs and where, we noticed in passing that sometimes, the number of jobs added to a local economy in a specific occupation isn’t the only data point that matters. Instead, context can be extremely important. We looked, in particular, at the fact that Canadian cities have often added significant numbers of nursing jobs — and yet there is still a widespread perception that there are no jobs for nurses available.
Comparing the number of new jobs for nurse supervisors and registered nurses to the number of Canadian students who had graduated from nursing programs in 2010 and 2011, we saw that the real problem was the glut of qualified candidates for the positions available. In both years, the supply of graduates exceeded the available jobs by over 12,000; that’s a surplus of over 200% a year.
New Nursing Program Completions vs. Nursing Jobs Added – 2010 and 2011
Armed with this new sense of the importance of context, we realized we needed to take another look at Canada’s cities, comparing the top programs at area postsecondary schools with the employment situation for those programs’ target occupations. First up, Montreal, a favorite at the EMSI blog because of the city’s growing high-tech economy.
Montreal’s Leading Programs
Montreal’s postsecondary institutions produced 71,720 graduates in 2011. That was a slight increase over the previous year’s total of 69,783. Montreal is home to 40 institutions, led by the University of Montreal, the Montreal campus of the University of Quebec, and McGill University, which together accounted for over 29,000 of those 71,000 completions. While those completions came from a range of 231 different CIP-coded programs, there were a few definite leaders. Here are the top 10 program types by 2011 completions:
The leading program type (liberal arts and sciences, general studies and humanities) is something of an enigma when it comes to making connections between completions and related occupations. After all, liberal arts majors go on to careers in almost every field (although usually not until they’ve completed some other education program as well). As a result, when EMSI computes its datasets, we choose not to map these completions to any particular occupations. We’ll put them aside, after noting that the 15,000 liberal arts graduates are a very large group indeed, and look at some of the other leaders from the chart.
Accounting and Related Services
While the second entry on the list is the ever-popular business degree, training in that field is much like liberal arts and humanities education; it connects to so many different occupations that it’s difficult to get any real analysis of what the picture looks like. Accounting, on the other hand, is a fairly specialized skill, and one which saw 3,383 new completions in 2011. There were 23 different institutions in Montreal offering accounting programs in 2011; the University of Quebec in Montreal had the most completions, with 961.
There are six main occupations linked to accounting programs: financial managers, financial auditors and accountants, financial and investment analysts, bookkeepers, supervisors of finance and insurance clerks, accounting and related clerks, and business development officers and marketing researchers/consultants. In Montreal, this group of occupations earn an average of $24.15, and account for approximately 90,000 jobs — slightly down from the previous year’s 92,557.
Does this mean that an accounting degree is a poor choice in Montreal? Not necessarily. Of those six occupations, a new graduate is most likely to enter either financial auditors and accountants, or bookkeepers. Bookkeepers were down by about 1,000 jobs, a worrisome 16% of their total workforce. And financial auditors and accountants were also down by about 1,000 jobs, but that was only 4% of a much larger body of workers.
In fact, of the six occupations connected to the program, the best bet looked like either financial managers (up by about 11%) or business development officers (up by almost 30%). For accounting students hoping to actually become accountants, however, the situation may prove difficult.
Human Development and Family Studies
In a completely different sector of the economy, Montreal also produced a large number of graduates in human development and family studies — a total of 1,634 completions from 13 different institutions, up significantly from 1364 the year before. Interestingly, the vast majority of these completions (1,412) were technical or career training programs, while only about 240 were actual undergraduate degrees. These are completions directly connected to the requirements of specific jobs, not degrees achieved for the sake of having a degree.
Completions in this program are connected to a range of occupations, but there are three that seem most closely related:
- Managers in social, community, and corrective services
- Family, marriage, and other related counsellors
- Community and social service workers
Obviously a large number of the jobs in these occupations are related to government agencies. While this specific program course seems especially related to them, there are other programs that may also be feeding into these jobs. But, over the last few years, these occupations have steadily added jobs, up by 9.2% since 2010. That’s a little over a thousand jobs, which mean a lot of new opportunities for the portion of those 1,600 completions looking to get jobs in those occupations. While there are fewer new jobs in those specific fields than there are total completions, the broad spectrum of possibilities for this program completion mean that there’s still a healthy relationship between graduates and openings. In particular, community and social service workers have added over 2,000 jobs in the last year, making them a welcoming target for students considering this program track.
What Does This Mean For the Economy?
It’s in the nature of any labour market to be constantly changing; the number of job openings available and workers able to fill them are in flux, subject to external factors that make it difficult for the two numbers to come into alignment. But while these two examples are enough to demonstrate the various conditions facing different graduates, it may be difficult to optimize the connection between the skills training provided in Montreal and the actual needs of the economy, the key lesson is the same as anywhere else: the need for data-based communication between businesses, educators, and students.
To make sure that the supply of skilled labour is aligned with the skills needs of the specific economy, educators need to communicate effectively with local employers to get a better handle on what skills are in short supply. Beyond direct communication, educators also need to use data to get a broader picture of shortfalls and surpluses in the economy. With firsthand and data-based information in hand, educators then need to directly communicate the labour market outcomes of different programs to students, so that students can make informed decisions about where they want to position themselves in the economy.