A Dec. 31 article in Postmedia papers by reporter Jessica Barrett about Canada’s job market quotes MLI senior fellows Philip Cross and Ken Coates. Profiling Stephen Tarrant, a recent graduate in economic geology from Memorial University, she writes:
“I’ve probably had, without exaggeration, 300 applications sent to different companies across the country, and basically heard nothing back,” a weary Tarrant said by phone earlier this month. He had just finished a long day serving Christmas shoppers for minimum wage at a Target store in St. John’s.
Tarrant’s retail reality – he holds another part-time gig at a Starbucks location – is particularly bitter given the seemingly never-ending talk of skills shortages in a sector advertised as the future of Canada’s economy. For him, each news story or government announcement on the topic feels like the twist of a knife.
Cross, former chief economist at Statistics Canada, explains that Canada lags the United States in collecting employment data.
“When you look at employment changes, it’s important to know if the change is due to more hiring, less people quitting, or more people on layoffs,” he said. “In the U.S., they have this terrific survey where they go out and they measure those three components.”
Coates, who is Canada Research Chair in Regional Innovation at the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy in Saskatchewan, says the struggles of Tarrant and his classmates point to a “crisis of credentialism” at Canadian schools:
Incomplete and misconstrued data combined with overly broad criteria to determine statistical “success” in the job market is encouraging young people to pursue university degrees they don’t really need, he said.
And there is one major reason Coates suggests institutions are reluctant to create a clearer picture of the job market: It’s likely not a pretty one.
“I think sometimes we’re not so confident we want the answer,” he said.