By Fred Gibbons, President & CEO
One of the most serious challenges we continue to face in Ontario is youth unemployment.
Young people are having a particularly difficult time in this economy. The youth unemployment rate remains stuck at about 15 per cent, which is well above the national average.
However, that statistic doesn’t capture the full problem. Along with youth unemployment, there is a serious problem of underemployment. Many young people have found work but they are in jobs that don’t really utilize their skills and talents.
Addressing youth unemployment and underemployment must be a priority in Ontario. Governments, working with business and education leaders, must bring in new strategies to help more young people find meaningful work.
Certainly, strategies that help create more jobs are essential.
But it is also important to help more young people acquire the qualifications and professional skills that lead to rewarding careers.
Many employers, especially in the resource sectors, say they have positions available but they can’t find people with the right qualifications. To help address this, Ontario must encourage more students to pursue the career-specific programs at colleges.
One of the most significant steps the province can take is to expand the range of degree programs at colleges.
While some colleges offer four-year degree programs, graduates of most college programs are awarded diplomas and certificates. In this regard, Ontario is out of step with most of the world, where career-specific degree programs are more common.
For example, in most OECD countries, graduates of three-year post-secondary programs that are career specific earn degrees. However, Ontario colleges must award diplomas to the graduates of their three-year programs.
This discrepancy doesn’t make sense. Many of the Ontario colleges’ three-year programs are already aligned with provincial and international standards for degrees. Students who complete these programs should earn credentials that recognize their achievements and allow them to be as competitive as possible, in Ontario and beyond.
This is particularly important in the new economy, as growing numbers of employers are seeking people with degrees who also have the professional and technical skills to succeed in today’s innovation economy. Higher education in Ontario should be better aligned with employers’ requirements.
The Ontario government knows that colleges can deliver effective degree programs.
Independent research that was done for government on the four-year degree programs at colleges said the programs respond to a clear demand for career-specific degrees. The researchers said more should be done to promote degree programs at colleges.
The government must act on this advice and work with colleges to elevate Ontario’s post-secondary system to international standards.
It’s time to allow Ontario’s colleges to offer three-year degrees in career-specific areas and to allow colleges to expand their range of four-year degree programs.
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