2014 FINA Youth Employment Statement

The Chief Executive Officer of Polytechnics Canada, Nobina Robinson, recently gave a statement to the House of Commons on youth employment. The statement is attached, and follows.

My name is Nobina Robinson and I am the Chief Executive Officer of Polytechnics Canada, the association that represents Canada’s leading urban, degree-granting, publicly funded colleges and polytechnics. You know us best as the champions for increased supports for apprentices and inclusion of college applied research in federal support for innovation.

Polytechnic applied education has three distinct features:

  • Undergraduate degrees and graduate certificates, as well as the full range of traditional community college vocational and professional credentials
  • Over 220 skilled trades training programs
  • Student involvement in applied research projects for hands-on R&D experience

Applied education is outcomes-based. Our members work closely with industry partners to set curricula according to industry standards, ensuring that our graduates will meet employer expectations and hit the ground running on day one on the job. Work-integrated learning is a hallmark of our model of education.

Irrespective of the various debates over the skills mismatch, I want to make the case that advanced applied education is the best insurance against unemployment and underemployment.

There is a diverse set of needs and experience levels among unemployed and underemployed youth. At least two different descriptors are needed to capture this diversity - those who are not in education, employment or training - now known as NEETs; and those who are the poorly integrated new entrants to the labour force, now referred to as PINEs. It is the PINEs that I want to focus on today - those who are underemployed, sometimes overqualified, or generally mismatched to the needs of employers. I understand you will be hearing from the traditional community college sector next week, and all of Canada’s colleges offer solutions for those known as NEETs.

Polytechnic institutions have innovated their training programs to develop a solution for PINEs. We saw a strong trend of students enrolling in our institutions who had already completed a university bachelor’s degree, and who sought  targeted skills that would give them a competitive advantage in the market place. So, we developed graduate certificates to respond to this demand, providing students with small classes, industry-experienced faculty and relevant workplace experience. These certificates put them, not just in a new job, but on the on-ramp to a prosperous career.

In the absence of timely, accurate labour market information – a vital federal role – we’ve decided to collect our own.

Our members offer over 200 graduate certificate programs open only to those who have completed a prior post-secondary credential, usually a university degree. An average of 12% of our full-time students have already completed a four-year university bachelor’s degree and are now enrolled in a targeted graduate certificate, diploma or advanced diploma program. In some cases, the percentage of university graduates is as high as 15.

These graduate certificates are in high demand. The ratio of qualified applicants for each available seat is often 10:1 or higher. I can provide specific examples in our discussion to follow.

So, our two recommendations for your study are the following:

First, provide timely, relevant, objective, credible and consistent labour market information by focusing on two Statistics Canada surveys; modernize and improve the Workplace and Employee Survey and reactivate the Youth in Transition Survey. These were noted by the 2009 Drummond Panel. These surveys will provide the breadth and depth of data needed to connect education to employment. This will allow employers to look for new hires with the right credentials, educational institutions to design more outcomes-oriented programs, and students to make more informed choices about what to study.

Second, to increase the capacity of our institutions’ high demand programs, such as these graduate certificates, a portion of the funding in the Canada Social Transfer for post-secondary education should be set aside for demand-driven, industry-responsive programs. For every one student who gets to register for these in-demand programs, our current capacity restraints force us to turn away 9 other fully qualified applicants.

The plight of younger workers is a persistent social and economic challenge that has much impact on Canada’s productivity and prosperity. As a closing remark, it is worth saying that all of this will be easier to do once we establish a parity of esteem among the different post-secondary options young people choose from today. Thank you, and I look forward to your questions.

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