Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Too Smart For Our Own Damn Good

Canadians are academically top-heavy and, unless we change that, it'll cost us.

A report in today's Toronto Star notes that Canada ranks #1 as having the greatest percentage of its working force with a college or university education.

"The latest census data shows that Canada stands first in the developed world in the proportion of people who hold credentials from either college or university – 48 per cent, compared with 39 per cent in the U.S. or 32 per cent in Australia.

The data also shows Canadian women outnumber men at university, more than half of immigrants have a university degree compared with 20 per cent of Canadians born here, one in five post-secondary grads has taken a business or marketing-related course – but only 10 per cent of young adults hold a certificate in a skilled trade.

Too, the census reveals a young generation studying different fields than their parents – more chefs than mechanical repair, for instance, more computers than construction, more transportation than health services."

This is all well and good until your toilet backs up or you need a machinist or some other skilled trade. There we're in trouble. Canada is facing a critical shortage of skilled tradesmen (& women).

From welding to drywalling there are not enough young people entering our trades.

Nothing new to this story. It's a problem that's beset some sectors of industry since the 60's.

My Dad was in the specialty steel business in Ontario. Most of his customers were tool and die companies working for the automotive and aeronautical industries. Those companies were dependent on highly skilled machinists and tool makers but there were never enough.

The Soviets actually helped ease Canada's problem. Their invasion of Hungary in '56 and Czechoslovakia in '63 brought quite a few highly skilled tradesmen to Canada as refugees. By the time the 70's rolled around, a lot of them owned their own, highly profitable tool and die companies. After they were absorbed, however, the trade shortage problem returned.

Why? A major reason was that the apprenticeship process wasn't sufficiently attractive to draw newcomers. Kids could earn a lot more taking an unskilled factory job than they would ever receive during their years as an apprentice.

Another problem is our public attitude to labour of any sort. We're snobs, plain and simple, and before long we may come to regret our snobbery.

When I entered law school I was surprised at how many of my classmates admitted they were there largely due to their parents. Some had absolutely been groomed for it from childhood. It was mandated.

The upshot? We're awash in lawyers and bereft of machinists. Make sense? Of course not.

From one end of this country to the other we need to change all this and, while government and the private sector need to do a lot more, so do we as individuals and, especially, as parents. Remember, Jesus was a carpenter.


Unknown said...

Ha! yes Jesus was a carpenter. there must be an action figure for that one.


Werner said...

I'm a bit curious to know what actually constitutes this "university" education. If many Canadian have degrees in engineering, chemistry, or computer science then it is unlikely they would be happy working in the trades. However I suspect from your comments that these "educated" people have a variety of "managerial papers" ie. psychology, business,or sociology "wimmin's studies" or some other kind of junk which generally only qualifies them to run the lives of others. Perhaps "qualify" is the wrong word. Such "new class" types just think they are superior to the rest of us and the idea of pressing social workers to clean drains appeals to me.

The Mound of Sound said...

I don't think there's any question that we're churning out a lot of grads with few work skills. A philosophy degree sometimes leads to a job asking "Do you want fries with that?"
We have no right to manage anyone's life choices but we do have an obligation to manage our educational resources.

Justin Socie said...

A philosophy degree sometimes leads to a job asking "Do you want fries with that?"

And other times it leads into law school, and then becoming president of a company, and then Prime Minister (Paul Martin).

Anonymous said...

I've been advocating a system where the government and industry decides which skills the economy needs and then does what it takes to create the workers. While we would still allow education for education sake there would be finacial incentives to learn skills the country needs.

Honestly shouldn't the country get what it needs from the billions spent on education.

Now my proposal is a stick and carrot approach where the real need for a skills sets its tuition level. Say we need 2000 mining engineers(there is a real shortage in Canada) we set the tutition as low as required down to zero until enrolement hits 2300, figuring a 10-15% drop out rate.

We would penalize the takers of basket weaving courses and slackers who 7 spend years getting a 3 year BA. We also shrink total enrolment to divert resources to needed skills and cull the heard of obviously unqualifed students.

In total the system works to educate but fails the needs of the country and in many cases perpetuates poor choices by students in finding meaningful livelyhoods.

I posted on this as one of my very first works, it's rather long but have a look

The Mound of Sound said...

You're right Justin but for every Paul Martin, LLB, how many phil BA's are riding cash registers? Lots.

GAB, I really like your idea about reduced or free tuition for skills-driven education. We still need to come up with an answer to bolster apprenticeships.


Anonymous said...

"The latest census data shows that Canada stands first in the developed world in the proportion of people who hold credentials from either college or university – 48 per cent, compared with 39 per cent in the U.S. or 32 per cent in Australia.

This blog for some reason made me think of our position out of the top 26 countries in the world. Canada ranks 19 out of 26 when it comes to child proverty.....and ....35% of workers in Canada don't have a high school education.... This just doesn't make sense...and I don't mean your blog, I mean the information. Cheers

Anonymous said...

In my whole proposal college courses including trades would also be treated the same way as far as non college apprenticeships a good part of it is teacher and parent inspired blue collar bias, parents, teachers and students need guidence counciling to show them the opportunities available. A course showing the opportunity costs and real vs imagined advantage of a BA would be a real eye opener for many people.

If we taught kids that trades were not demeaning and the being a shyster or stock broker is not always a higher form of life the problem would solve itself. I for one would have been happier making furniature rather than pushing buttons and yelling at people all day.

I also like the German model where most students get a taste of trade training at highschool(far beyond the 2 hours of shop/week we had between grade 5-8), the move away from highschool steaming has also severly hurt trades in Canada

The Mound of Sound said...

Can't argue with your logic, GAB. We repeatedly show kids that a highschool grad mades X dollars more a year than a dropout and a college grade makes X+Y dollars and a university grad makes all that plus Z dollars.

It's preposterous. Sort of like saying lawyers make such and such a year. What you don't say is that a lousy lawyer will be lucky to meet his office rent and payroll, so if you're not cut out for it don't waste your time.

If university is just a warm way to park your ass for four years whiling away the time on easy but meaningless credits, you may not be the slightest bit better off than the enterprising kid who dropped out.

We fill our kids' heads with nonsense about this subject and when it doesn't work out we all pay for it.

Red Jenny said...

Just to interject here - there is something to be said for a liberal education that is not all about instrumentality. I think philosophy majors are smart enough that they don't expect to get a job as a philosopher when they graduate. It is important that kids don't feel pressured to go to university - as Gab said, the trades need their image improved. But lets not forget the value of learning about the wider world, of critical thinking, of a liberal education. Already those fields that are more valued by society (like engineering and computer science) recieve gobs of money compared with the lowly humanities. Not to mention there's nothing that says someone can't have both a philosophy degree AND be a journeyman welder.

The Mound of Sound said...

Your point is quite valid Jenny. There is much to be said for liberal education in its own right. If we could only weed out those who pursue it for no reason other than to have a warm place to sleep for four years, it would be even more valuable.
Even law schools have become too "trade school" oriented. I had an Irish prof from Trinity who taught equity and jurisprudence, the philosophical side of law. He drove home the point that there was a time when law was considered something worth studying in its own right, simply as an intellectual discipline.
But the hard fact is that we don't get many undergrad phil students who go on to become journeyman welders. It doesn't happen. If it did, we might not be so bereft of apprentice tradesmen.
How do we get more students and their parents into thinking about trades rather than putting their lives into idle for four years?

Red Jenny said...

I think we need to rethink our ideas about value and status. Kids absorb so many messages about what it means to live the good life from television and advertising - and it doesn't usually involve blue collar work. Those who work with their hands are still looked down upon in society. Middle class parents want their kids to "do better" and better often doesn't mean fixing someone's pipes (even though plumbers offer an extremely valuable service and make tons of money). It's really tough for kids these days - hell, I'm still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up, and I'm 31 years old!

I'm interested in the idea in Parecon about balanced job complexes - in which nobody does only one thing. Maybe philosophers don't become welders because of the pressure not to "waste" their talents and abilities. Or maybe they just suck at working with their hands - me, I'm so clumsy you wouldn't want me near a blowtorch. In any case, most people are good at several things, and indeed most people have more than one career these days anyways.

One other aspect missing from this discussion is gender. There are very few women in the trades, even now. There are some - I once knew a female carpenter - but they are still rare. How do we get our young girls, especially those who are talented at working with their hands, into the trades? More incorporation of those kinds of skills into the public education system perhaps? I know I really enjoyed the one semester of shop class I had to take in grade 7, but if I had to take something like that every year - like we have to take PE each year - maybe I might have had a chance to discover if I was good at it. I don't see any reason why a more comprehensive education isn't possible.

The Mound of Sound said...

Jenny, see if you can get your hands on a copy of this month's Harpers. In the back is a terrific review of our growth fetish entitled "Fear of Fallowing, the specter of a no-growth world." You'll really enjoy it.
That reference was apropos of your comment about middle class parents wanting their kids to achieve more, to have a better standard of living, more toys. Eventually we're going to have no choice but to abandon that vision of life.
Excellent point on the gender aspect of the trades issue. Once again it's an ingrained, societal thing. During WWII, women did just fine filling all the industrial trades. Curiously the only guy reluctant to bring women into the war effort was Hitler.

Hope you check out that article in the March Harper's.


Anonymous said...

Red are absolutely correct. I have worked in South Korea for the past eight years recently returning to Canada. There, the parents all want their children to be doctors, lawyers, dentists just because it means they are better. Police in South Korea are paid a pitiful salary. Farmers, trades people are looked down upon as if they are out of the gutter. Comprehensive education is the way to go as it has been shown in Scandanavian countries. There, a plumber can afford to go the theatre, opera and other events and he isn't looked down upon as being less educated than a lawyer. Why I know two lawyers from Calgary that changed their professions. One took a carpentry course and has become a world known furniture designer the other bought a transport truck and hit the road. I bet he is the only truck driver that listens to classical music. Cheers

Red Jenny said...

Well, I certainly agree that we need to stop worshiping at the altar of growth. I'll check out the article if I have a chance. Thanks