Overqualified, underpaid

Overqualified, underpaid


Conventional economic wisdom argues that many good jobs in Canada go unfilled because workers do not have the needed education and skills, and that investment in skills will produce more and better jobs. Despite all the talk of a skills gap, the reality is that Canadians are more highly educated than ever before.

Half of the workforce now has some post-secondary education, compared to just one in five workers in 1971. Less than one in four workers have not graduated from high school, well down form 40 per cent in 1982. Further, rising levels of formal education attainment have been supplemented by a large increase in self-directed learning. Surveys show that adults spend an average 12 hours a week on informal learning (e.g. the acquisition of computer skills) and that enrollment rates in continuing education courses have been rising significantly.

Rising levels of education have resulted in a widening gap between educational credentials and the actual knowledge content of jobs. A recent survey found that 22 per cent of Canadians with a university degree or community college diploma feel overqualified for the jobs they currently hold. One in four university and community college graduates work in generally low-paid clerical, sales and service jobs, which typically do not require advanced academic qualifications.

Between 1989 and 1997, total employment in Canada grew by 10 per cent. Over the same period, sales jobs grew by 17 per cent, and service jobs by 12 per cent, while blue-collar industrial jobs (outside construction) grew at only slightly below the average rate. Fully half of all job growth in the United States since 1984 has been in the generally low-paid clerical, sales and services jobs.

Despite all the talk of a knowledge-based economy, job growth is still heavily concentrated in occupations which do not require high levels of formal education.

The Economy, Spring 1998, Vol.9, No.2

Copyright Our Times Publishing Inc. Jul/Aug 1998

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