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The problem with ‘overqualified’

Not enough jobs for the people who have secured the education to do that job
Mike Davies

A new report was released last week citing a growing proportion of recent university graduates are “overqualified” for the jobs they are in.

The federal parliamentary budget office’s “Labour Market Assessment 2015” report concludes that, “based on educational credentials, the proportion of workers aged 25 to 34 with a university degree who were overqualified in their current position has been on an upward trend since the early 1990s.”

This can’t be a surprise for people, can it?

As a society, we’re graduating more and more people with degrees in educating children while funding is cut to schools.

We’re producing historians, sociologists and yes, even journalists, who are looking for work in a world that doesn’t seem to have a use for them.

So they get jobs in coffee shops making fancy lattes or serving your dinner at a local restaurant.

They stock the shelves of department stores or they upgrade their drivers licence so they can drive a taxi. Many of them go back to school to get a trades ticket so they can get work in an industry that is actually hiring, then plug away doing something they hate because the world isn’t interested in paying them for what they love.

People have to live inside and eat food, after all, and those things cost money.

But the report says there are “costs associated with a rising number of overqualified workers. These workers may face lower levels of job satisfaction and attachment, which could increase turnover rates for employers,” for example.

So what’s the solution, Davies?

How do we give everyone the job they want? Don’t we need shelf-stockers and cab drivers? Don’t we need servers and tradespeople?

Of course we do.

But we don’t need servers with degrees in sociology. I was a server/bartender for many years, and trust me when I say that very few people cared to hear my thoughts on the world, even if they were educated ones.

And we don’t want steelworkers and people in construction who would rather be biologists or journalists and spent tens of thousands of dollars pursuing that before having their dreams crushed. We need those tradespeople to love what they do, so they do the best job possible and our buildings and bridges don’t collapse.

The long and short of it is this: If we’re going to complain that too many people are “overqualified” for the jobs they’re doing because they’re doing something other than what they went to school for, we need to either find a way to employ people in the fields we’re educating them in or stop educating them in things we aren’t willing to pay them to do.

The solution needs to be a bit of both.

Part of the issue is the current model of post-secondary education. The way it’s set up, universities can’t afford to only be offering seats in their programs to the number of people the labour market needs in that discipline.  If you have the money – or can acquire some – you can generally take whatever undergraduate program you want at a post-secondary institution somewhere in Canada.

Which brings us to another facet of this problem: People need to stop assuming they can just pay for a piece of paper in some discipline and have earned the right to a job in that field.

I don’t have all the answers, but I know this is something we should be working on as a society.

We can’t just have everyone doing whatever they want and expect to make a living at it, but we also need people to be able to make a living doing things they don’t hate, because, generally, when you’re doing something you hate, you don’t do a great job of it, and that makes us worse off as a society.

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