Higher education leads to higher productivity

Entire economy benefits from educated workforce: Report

Canada’s booming economy might make it easier for all individuals, even those without a post-secondary education, to find work, but as soon as the economy cools down, people without a higher education will be the most vulnerable, warns the chief executive officer of the Ottawa-based Canadian Council on Learning (CCL).

“When there is a downturn in the economy, those will be the first people to lose their jobs,” said Paul Cappon.

Cappon’s comments were in response to the 2007 Education at a Glance report from the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The report found that, in countries with higher levels of post-secondary graduates, employment opportunities improved for all, even those without higher education.

“The higher the levels of education, the more a learning culture is established and the more productivity there is. That helps people at the lower levels as well because when you have higher productivity and more opportunities to learn, there are also more employment opportunities that are created because the business climate is better,” said Cappon.

But the CCL predicts 70 per cent of new jobs will require some form of post-secondary education in the next decade, so those who don’t go to university or college could lose out.

“Having post-secondary education in the information age is just a must,” said Andrew Cardozo, executive director of the Alliance of Sector Councils in Ottawa.

Many jobs that were previously deemed low-skill or low-education, such as operating a forklift or mining, are becoming ever-more reliant on higher skills and higher education, said Cardozo.

Even when lower-educated people have an easier time finding jobs, most of the time they earn less than their higher-educated counterparts. The report found people who have post-secondary education earn at least 50-per-cent more than those who didn’t complete high school.

Nearly one-half (46 per cent) of Canadians between the ages of 25 and 64 have a post-secondary degree, the highest proportion among OECD countries.

But only 23 per cent of Canadians in that age group have a university degree.

“We are doing well when it comes to college education but we’re not doing well around university education, especially when it comes to science and math,” said Cardozo.

Canada only has 1,163 science grads for every 100,000 people compared to the OECD average of 1,295.

“This is obviously going to have a negative effect on Canada’s competitiveness because those are the fields that drive innovation and innovation drives productivity,” said Cappon.

Unfortunately, too many students are getting turned off these subjects before they even get to university, said Cardozo.

“We have to seriously look at how we teach math and science in high school,” he said.

Schools need to get students excited about science, said Colette Rivet, executive director of the biotechnology sector council BioTalent in Ottawa.

One way to do that involves bringing industry right into the classroom and the curriculum. Teachers should also stay current with advances in science and biotechnology so they can pass along their knowledge to students, said Rivet.

“It’s really (about) getting their interest right from the beginning,” she said.

BioTalent has already developed a biotechnology curriculum for Grade 12 students at two schools in the Toronto District School Board and hopes to expand the program.

Cardozo would also like to see more trades going into the high school system to teach students about the opportunities available to them through apprenticeships because too many students, with pressure from parents, view apprenticeships as a last resort.

“That has resulted in a real paucity of people with trades training,” said Cardozo.

As a whole, Canadians are more interested in learning opportunities, said CCL’s Cappon, and they’re beginning to demand them as part of their employment packages. In particular, people are interested in generic, transferable skills, such as communication and problem solving, he said.

“If you can offer quality learning opportunities, that’s how you’re going to attract new employees and retain employees,” he said.

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