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Canada’s Workforce Is Changing. Is Canada’s Post-Secondary System Keeping Pace?

Across the globe, the workplace is evolving at an unprecedented pace. Technological change, demographic shifts, globalization and climate change are just a few of the factors increasing uncertainty around work today – and tomorrow. In particular, the skills required to succeed in the world of work are changing.

In the face of these changes, we need reliable, up-to-date labour market information so that Canadians can make the most informed decisions possible on, among other things, training and education. Unfortunately, much of the needed information is not readily available in an accessible format to those who need it most.

While many factors affect post-secondary education (PSE) schooling decisions, earnings is the most sought-after information among Canadian students.  Acknowledging this gap, the Labour Market Information Council (LMIC) and the Education Policy Research Initiative (EPRI) have partnered to develop, analyze, and make widely available information that will support schooling and career decisions in Canada. Last month, we released a report which tracks the early career earnings of the entire population of recent college and university graduates over the period 2011 through 2015, with plans to update this information yearly. Annual Earnings are identified on a year-by-year basis for up to five years following graduation across six major credentials, ranging from college-level certificates to advanced university degrees, and by 11 fields of study within each credential in order to provide the detailed information required for PSE decisions.

The research highlights that on average graduates from Canadians PSE institutions are doing very well. Outcomes vary by credential and field but taking all graduates together, earnings grew in real terms from an average of $43,100 to $59,300 over the 5 years following graduation, representing a total increase of 38% or a remarkable 8.4% per year (in real terms).

Furthermore, our interactive dashboard allows users to easily explore the earnings patterns of some 51 combinations of credentials and fields of study for recent graduates according to their own interests and needs. For example, they can easily see that graduates with a college-level certificate in Business, Management and Public Administration had average earnings of $48,800 per year five years after graduation, and a Bachelor’s degree holder in the Humanities earned about the same ($48,000).

While many gaps in earnings-related information persist, notably for under-represented populations, such as Indigenous peoples and persons with disabilities, feasible next steps in our work could include providing earnings information for more detailed fields of study or for individual provinces or regions. Another direction could involve relating outcomes to individuals’ family background and pre-PSE schooling experiences, or – more ambitiously but still possible – reaching back to look at how PSE participation decisions across the country are related to these and other factors.

One other remaining set of important question marks in the space of education and training is the interplay between PSE credentials and skills. For far too long we have equated the two. We need, in particular, a better understanding of how skills are developed during PSE across different credentials and in specific fields of study and what these skills are worth in the labour market. But we also need to better understand more directly the skill requirements of jobs, how those skills evolve over time and the role they play, in combination with credentials, in putting our graduates to work.

Better labour market information will help individuals be better informed about the choices they make regarding their schooling and career paths, will help them find jobs that are better matched with their education and skill levels; will help employers find people with the skills needed to make their companies grow and prosper; will help educators, training and learning providers, and career guidance practitioners enhance program design; will help policy makers across a range of domains; and will provide the general public with a better understanding of work, skills, and school.

The earnings information presented in this joint research project represents a significant step towards helping Canadians make better choices with respect to education and training that will profoundly affect individuals’ careers and lives and the country’s economic prosperity and a wide range of other social outcomes. Now more than ever, Canada’s current and future workforce needs objective, timely and accurate information to help navigate the evolving nature of work.

Steven Tobin

Steven Tobin is the Executive Director of the Labour Market Information Council. Steven provides the overall strategic leadership and management to the LMIC with the guidance of the Board of Directors and two advisory panels. 


Ross Finnie is the Director of the Education Policy Research Initiative and a Professor in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa.

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