Expand college degrees to tackle youth unemployment
October 15, 2014

This column by Georgian President and CEO MaryLynn West-Moynes was published in the Barrie Examiner on Oct. 15, 2014
A view of the front of the cenotaph at Georgian's Barrie Campus. The logo on the cenotaph reads "Georgian: Barrie Campus"With the new school year underway, the public’s attention is once again focused on the career opportunities available to young people after they graduate.

Youth unemployment continues to be a serious problem. The unemployment rate for young people in Ontario is more than 15 per cent – well above most other provinces and the national average.

Underemployment is an equally serious challenge. Even in cases where young people have found work, many are in jobs that don’t adequately utilize their strengths and abilities.

The one bright spot in the statistics is the postsecondary attainment rate. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) says Canada leads the world in providing access to higher education, primarily because of the existence of our country’s robust college system.

Ontario must continue to build on the success of its postsecondary attainment rates. It is not enough to ensure that students have access to higher learning. There must be more emphasis on helping students gain career-specific training as part of their post-secondary education.

Both employers and students advise us that postsecondary institutions can no longer compartmentalize learning. Employers need graduates who are able to think, lead, create and do. That’s why a number of colleges, including Georgian, have worked to ensure strong pathways between college and university credentials and have begun to offer degrees such as our unique Bachelor of Human Services (Police Studies) and Bachelor of Business degrees in Automotive Management and in Golf Management.

College and university jointly offered degrees such as those at York/Seneca, Guelph/Humber and the likes of our Bachelor of Science in Nursing offered collaboratively with York University, have seen record growth in enrolment over the last couple of years.

At a time when work is changing, postsecondary institutions must also change. Joint university-college offerings, such as the new integrated Lakehead/Georgian Bachelor of Engineering program will enable students to graduate with an Electrical Engineering Technology Advanced diploma and a degree in four years with the education, skills and training they need to accelerate their career.

Aside from supporting programs such as these, there are additional steps Ontario can take to make college programs even more attractive to students.

One proposed solution is to align Ontario’s educational system with those of most OECD countries and award degrees – rather than diplomas – to graduates of three-year college programs.

Increasing numbers of employers are seeking highly qualified and well-trained graduates with career-specific degrees. Ontario can meet that demand. Many of the three-year programs at Ontario’s colleges are already aligned with provincial and international standards for baccalaureate education.

The provincial government must bring in measures to help more young people find long-term success. Expanding the range of degree programs at colleges will be an important step in tackling youth unemployment.