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Christopher Radojewski | Fulcrum Staff

THE AVERAGE UNIVERSITY student might believe that their degree will give them an advantage over their competition upon entering the working world. This was true at one point, but in many fields today, a university degree is no longer the advantage; it’s the requirement.

Despite what you may have heard, a degree in your hand will not automatically land you a job—not if everybody else waiting for that job interview has one too.

Legitimate demands for a university degree exist, sure. Anyone off the street can’t just walk into a hospital and become a surgeon. But the real question is, has this demand been constructed in some cases? Jobs that two decades ago didn’t need a university degree now do. Today, many companies require their receptionists to hold university degrees. This never used to be a requirement—why is it now? The increasing number of people with post-secondary education has created a competitive aspect to the job application process. It has slowly become a requirement, which allows universities and companies to insist more jobs require university degrees—and the cycle continues.

The argument from the business community is that a university degree demonstrates certain desirable skills in a potential employee, such as dedication, writing ability, teamwork, and time management. But does the high-school-educated superintendent about to retire have fewer skills than the new grad with a degree? Not necessarily.

The provincial government strives to increase university enrolment; likewise, universities have begun to grow. This push occurs because multiple trade jobs are becoming available as the baby-boomer generation retires. So if money is your focus, forget the law degree. Workers in some trades make six-figure salaries and reach that salary before the law student ever finishes school.

With a lack of jobs available for university students and a need for workers in other industries, a problem has clearly arisen. As for how to fix it, there are three potential options.

The first places the emphasis for action on both federal and provincial governments. They need to start matching people with appropriate jobs to ensure that the students they encouraged toward university have jobs afterwards. On the other hand, maybe it is the governments’ responsibility to take the emphasis off university and place it on apprenticeship and college. This shift has begun, but at a minor level.

The second makes students responsible. Students can’t expect jobs on a silver platter, and they can’t expect the government to serve them up. The job you get might not necessarily be your dream career, and you have to work for them and earn them. Students must be ready to compete for whatever is available, because once they lose parental support, it isn’t easy to sustain a living at the same level of lifestyle they may be used to.

The final perspective questions the role of university. Does the institution need to focus on building skills that prepare students for the working world in the same way that college does? If employers want smart individuals with a large skill base, then maybe this is the way forward. The key is for university knowledge to be useful in a practical way, so students can justify a post-secondary investment.

Elements of all three approaches can work together to provide a way forward, because in all three, there are clear and practical steps for all involved parties to take. Governments need to look at the investments they make and where the economy needs individuals to work. Students need to keep their expectations reasonable and keep in mind that a paper degree is not a guarantee of employment. Universities can also help to ensure that important every-day skills are met. Why not a mandatory budgeting course along with the required English class?

Graduating students face tough economic times and a competitive world. Along with the degree, maybe we need hope for success. Where can we  go to buy that?