University education just a ‘nice-to-have’

By Admin Wednesday July 17 2013 in Opinion
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My daughter is holding on to hope as she marches through the daily uncertainty of trying to secure employment. She worked part-time during high school and all through her years at university. Returning from a year working in another country, she is now among the almost 18 per cent of unemployed youth in this province. But when considering Black youth looking for a job, she would count among the almost 25 per cent of Black youth who are unemployed. If we include those who are underemployed that figure is even greater.


One of her friends, also a university graduate, who has been seeking employment for the past six months has had a number of interviews, but is being beaten out for vacant positions by older job seekers, and I’m referring here to older adults taking low-skill service jobs.


It used to be a bit of amusement to refer to the retirees who would get jobs as greeters at places like Walmart, but take a look at the person in your neighbourhood supermarket who answers the cashier’s call to do a price check. That person may not be your usual 16-year-old student in a part-time job.


It’s not just the older generation that has become caught in the changing demands of the working world. Increasingly, entry-level and mid-level jobs require hard skills.


So what we have now is that the high youth unemployment problem is a symptom of the gap in human capital equipped with the skills the market is demanding.


Higher academic education is of necessity being pushed aside and being replaced instead with skills training. That is what is now the key to employability and a steady income.


Can we foresee a time when a university education with its focus on higher learning in history, literature and the humanities will be considered a luxury of the moneyed upper strata of society – those who don’t need to work for a living?


The rest of us had better make it crystal clear to our children that they need to prepare for their future by eschewing a university track and instead going straight to the now flourishing colleges and polytechnic institutions whose main function is to make them job ready upon graduation.


Talk to them about electronics technology, pharmacology, about being a student councillor, engineer, or medical technologist. Explain to them that if they are really interested in history, psychology or the humanities, they could always study those courses part-time while they are employed.


Help them to be aware that institutions like Ryerson University, formerly Ryerson Polytechnic Institute, George Brown College and Seneca College or similar training facilities are surer places to invest their time and money. Those aiming for jobs first now go straight to these colleges and polytechnics.


We, the older generation, will need to say in effect to the youth that in order to ensure the means for a living they will have to forestall other highly valued acquisitions such as training in critical thinking and scholarly enrichment. We will have say get a skill to get a job, and then if after that you still want to, you can go to university.


Yes, the world is changing and in order to ensure that our children not suffer in it, we have to open their eyes to what will be required of them.


Of course, some will devise their own coping strategies. Some with instinctive entrepreneurial skills will create new ways to function profitably. But others will need to be informed, so as not to be left behind by clinging to what are fast becoming the old ways.


It’s getting so that a university education is in the words of one local politician a ‘nice-to-have’ but not a ‘need-to-have’.


Parents reflect with pride upon their children’s completion of a university degree. It is a signifier of a real milestone in achievement. But that milestone is not an end to itself these days. The high level of youth unemployment is evidence of that. They need to be pointed in a new direction.


A note on a predictably disappointing outcome…


So that all-female, non-Black jury in Florida found admitted killer George Zimmerman not guilty. But of what is he ‘not guilty’? He admits killing unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin. The evidence is clear that he was told by authorities to stop following the 17-year-old who had gone to a convenience store to buy a drink and some candy, yet he pursued the young man. In America, justice is blind. But more specifically, willfully blind.