Guest Post: Are Too Many Youth Going to University?

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This blog is a guest post by Al T.O. Trent.

Does Canada’s economy have the right number of people going into the skilled trades, colleges and polytechnics, or universities? Are students and their families getting the information they need about labour markets? If so, how are they reacting, and is there a role for government to help with these decisions?

 

Perception: There is a bias against the trades in Canada

Behind the numbers: Youth are responding to labour market signals and choosing to different postsecondary routes to meet their career goals

There is a perception that there is a systemic bias against the trades in Canadian society (examples include the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Canadian Apprenticeship Forum, and statements by leading politicians reported in the media ). Some believe that parents don’t want their children going into the trades and push them towards university programs instead. Others believe that the vast majority of youth are going to university – and that most are going into social science, humanities and other “soft” disciplines rather than going in the trades where there are good job and high income prospects. The facts don’t bear this out.

Signals from Canada’s labour markets highlight the need for postsecondary graduates of all types in the coming decades – more trade, apprentice, college and university graduates are needed to meet demands in various parts of the country. Students and postsecondary institutions have responded to those signals. Students are enrolling in record numbers in high demand disciplines. Universities and other postsecondary institutions have ramped up their ability to respond to meet demand. Indeed, the fastest growing disciplines on campuses across Canada are precisely in the areas of high demand.

Full-time college enrolment has increased by more than 20% since 2000 and university enrolment grew by more than 50% between 2000 and 2011. Enrolment in apprenticeship programs more than doubled in the same period –more than twice the growth rate in university enrolment. The much faster enrolment growth in apprenticeship programs runs counter to the perception of a wide and growing bias against the trades.

The large numbers of youth in their 20s who have already completed trade, apprentice and college programs counters the mistaken impression that everyone goes to university. In fact, more young men and women in their 20’s have completed a college level program than a bachelor’s degree. And, while there are far more young women who have completed bachelor’s degrees than trade or apprentice programs , the number of young men with bachelor’s degrees is very similar to the number who have completed trade or apprentice programs.

It is clear that men and women have reacted differently to labour market signals and opportunities. Given the different choices men and women are making, it is useful to analyse their postsecondary completion patterns separately. For example, in 2011 young men continued to be attracted to construction, mechanical and precision production (fabricating) trades to a far greater extent than young women – men account for some 96 percent of the youth who have completed postsecondary certification in these important trades. Meanwhile, women accounted for more than 80 percent of the trade, college and university graduates in health and education programs.

So how are young men preparing themselves to meet the needs of the labour market? National Household Survey data showed that in 2011:

  • There were some 170,000 young men 20 to 29 who had completed certification in the construction, mechanical, and precision production or fabricating trades in apprentice programs or trade schools and another 60,000 who had completed programs in these fields in Canadian colleges.
  • Science programs were also very popular among young men. Nearly 100,000 had completed an engineering or other bachelor of science programs at a Canadian university. A further 160,000 had completed engineering technology or other science-based programs at colleges, CEGEPs, trade or apprenticeship programs.
  • The number of men completing trades or science-based programs was significantly higher than the number who had degrees or diplomas in all of the arts, education, social science or humanities programs combined. There were just 100,000 who had completed these types of programs at the bachelor’s level and colleges also produced 90,000 graduates in these disciplines.
  • There were about 65,000 young men who had business degrees at the bachelor’s level and another 14,000 from the health professions (excluding medical doctors). Some 83,000 had business diplomas from colleges and 26,000 had completed medical and other health related college programs.
  • Finally some 95,000 men completed transportation, protective services (police, security and fire) training in colleges and trade programs.

So the evidence supporting a bias against the trades – at least among young men — is hard to substantiate. In fact, in 2011 there were more than two and half times more men 20 to 29 who had completed programs in the construction, mechanical, fabrication and transportation trades than all of the men who had completed bachelor’s programs in social sciences, humanities, general arts, education or fine arts programs combined.

Young women have made very different program choices.

  • In 2011 there were just 10,000 young women 20 to 29 who had completed certification in the construction, mechanical, and precision production or fabricating trades in apprentice programs or trade schools or college programs.
  • Science programs were also far less popular among young women. A little more than 65,000 had completed an engineering or other bachelor of science programs at a Canadian university. A further 53,000 had completed engineering technology or other science-based programs at colleges, CEGEPs, trade or apprenticeship programs.
  • There were 216,000 women who had completed degrees in the arts, education, social science or humanities programs combined. Colleges also produced close to 200,000 diplomas or certificate holders in these disciplines.
  • Business programs were also very popular for young women with almost 75,000 degree holders at the bachelor’s level and more than 165,000 diplomas and certificates in college and trade programs.
  • Women earned more than 80 percent of degrees, diplomas and certificates in a variety of health programs (excluding medical doctors). Almost 60,000 at the bachelor’s level, 130,000 from colleges and another 40,000 in apprenticeship and trade programs.
  • Finally almost 40,000 women completed college programs in personal, culinary protective services in colleges and some 65,000 completed trades programs.

The difference in the field of study and occupational choices of men and women is not a new phenomenon. Many programs already exist to promote science, engineering and trades programs to women. Both men and women should have more information available on which to base their choices, but it is clear that both men and women have reacted to market signals in the past and there is little or nothing to suggest that they won’t respond in the future.

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