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Colleges and Universities Shortchanging Graduates

by Ron McGowan
Canadian colleges and universities, like their counterparts in other western countries, are doing a poor job of preparing graduates for today’s workplace. The biggest weakness in the post-secondary education sector in all countries is the lack of experience in today’s workplace by those who are responsible for education policy, funding, administration and delivery.

There’s a huge disconnect between these bureaucrats, administrators and educators, and their students, in terms of their own work environment and the workplaces their students are entering.

How do these people who live in the land of the steady paycheck and traditional benefits relate to the challenges of graduates? In terms of relating to what the graduates are up against, they may as well be living on another planet. Graduates will make their living from contracts, temporary and part-time employment with few, if any benefits, including pensions.

The fundamental challenge for colleges and universities is that for generations they’ve been turning out employees. Now, increasingly, they will have to turn out entrepreneurs, or individuals who have an enterprising approach to finding work. The question is, who will teach them these skills?

We’ve become very complacent about graduates ending up in jobs they could have got without attending college or university. We need to end that complacency. If the best and brightest of our young people — those who have the brains and fortitude to graduate — can’t find meaningful work, we need to address that now.

Graduates can’t afford to wait for the colleges and universities to enter the 21st Century. They need to learn how to find hidden work opportunities, market themselves effectively to employers, create tools beyond the traditional resume that will get the attention of employers, be open to part-time, temporary and contract work, and seriously consider creating their own job.

We keep waiting for the Great Recession to be over and lots of jobs to come back. It’s not going to happen. For a growing number of workers, the era of the traditional job and all the stability that came with it is over. In trend-setting California, only about 30% of the workforce has traditional jobs. That’s where we’re all headed.
Graduates should organize themselves and come up with creative ways to connect with employers, especially small companies where most of the action is. Going forward, they should demand that the colleges, universities and the government do more to adequately prepare them for today’s workplace. And demand is the key word. Given how ossified these institutions are in their thinking, change will only come if it is driven from the outside.
In the meantime, graduates must take charge of creating their own success. And, with a little bit of help, they’re absolutely capable of doing that.

Ron McGowan is the author of “How to Find work in the 21st Century” by Self-Counsel Press. For more information, visit:


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