“The New Underclass”

The New Underclass, an article published by Maclean’s, was one of the original inspirations for my blog topic, and as such I think it is fitting that I finally get around to a post about it.

I first discovered the article when I moseyed into the kitchen one morning in search of some coffee. I was greeted with a different kind of wake-up call…

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As I gazed at the dejected faces cast across the group of 20-somethings on the cover, and read the subtitle, “Why so many smart, educated, ambitious young people have no future,” I immediately began to wonder… WHY?

The article begins with a profile of Melanie Cullins, a young ESL teacher with a degree in applied linguistics, which is supposedly the creme de la creme in qualifications when it comes to ESL. But she couldn’t get a job. As the 2008 fiscal crisis caused government cutbacks all around, language transition programs were particularly reduced. Melanie was applying for job after job, and was hearing little to nothing in response. She notes that this was personally debilitating; her self-esteem went down the drain.

Melanie’s story is incredibly common, as we have heard more and more in the media and social media since the 2008 fiscal crisis. And it is certainly a problem. Here are the most shocking statistics provided by the article:

  • 42% of Canadians aged 20-29 live at home with their parents
  • in 2006, nearly 1 in 4 university educated workers was employed in a job that did not require a university education
  • 1.2 million Canadian workers under the age of 30 reported they were employed part-time, while actively pursuing full-time work

Canada’s youth are underemployed, defined by the article as “a gross mismatch between peopleโ€™s skills and the jobs employers wish to fill.” And this problem is caused by a variety of reasons, “the decline of central Canadaโ€™s manufacturing sector and the union jobs it sustained; relentless cost-cutting by corporations; the demographic bulge of older workers occupying high-skilled, well-paying positions; parents who pressed their kids into university, hoping theyโ€™d get prestigious, white-collar jobs; and universities and colleges who indulged that urge despite the changing demands of the labour market.”

It’s the last bit of the ‘reasons’ that I’m most concerned about. It appears to me that post-secondary education has become more about business than what is best for the students. We see this with overflowing classes, libraries, and residences. The infrastructure can’t keep up with the growth in students, and neither can the job market. And the students can’t keep up with the debt service.

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What gets confusing is that 2/3 of employers are unable to find highly qualified and suitable candidates. So where is the disconnect? So many young people go to university in pursuit of becoming doctors, lawyers, teachers, and businessmen. But the article points out that this leaves a huge void of new positions that are constantly being developed in fields beyond the traditional ones. Yes, there are college programs, and yes, some universities are developing more hands-on classes and faculties, but the statistics clearly demonstrate that the overall trends are problematic.

At this point I come to a disagreement with myself. On the one hand I believe that university is intrinsically useful because it truly broadens one’s horizons (at least this was the case with myself and my friends). On the other hand, this article has clearly demonstrated that students need to be spread amongst universities and colleges, rather than concentrated in universities, in order to alleviate the stresses on employers and jobseekers.

What do you think?

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