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Margin Notes

Students are skipping environmental programs

Enrolment in postsecondary environmental programs has dropped by nine percent since 1999. Why?


It seems a safe bet that there’ll be many “green jobs” created in the environmental sector over the next decade, so why aren’t more students flocking to fields related to the environment?

The Canadian Council on Learning doesn’t have the answer, but it has raised the issue. In a report released yesterday, “Meeting the demand for trained personnel in Canada’s environmental sector,” the council claims that jobs in this sector will increase by more than eight percent by next year, yet enrolment in postsecondary environmental programs has actually dropped – by nine percent – since 1999.

“The green economy is an undeniable part of our society and global culture, and it is critical that Canada is prepared to meet this sector’s need for skilled workers,” says Paul Cappon, CCL’s president and CEO. The report says people who pursue these types of careers have a “strong emotional connection towards the environment and passion about the environment and environmental issues,” so “we need to nurture that commitment at the earliest possible stage,” says Mr. Cappon.

The report cites various examples of environmental careers, such as agronomist; ecologist; environmental chemist, engineer or lawyer; forester; geographer; oceanographer and toxicologist.

The report says stimulating an interest in the environment among students is the best way to increase the supply of graduates in environmental programs. The report recommends a number of ways to do this:

  • offering students experiential activities such as outdoor programs;
  • educating teachers and students about the diversity of the jobs available in the environmental sector;
  • offering information and guidance during the career decision-making process; and
  • focusing on the elementary and middle school years as a time to introduce environmental education programs.

As an emphatic outdoor enthusiast, I’m all for offering students chances to experience the great outdoors. Yet, I must say I’m a bit surprised that enrolment in environmental programs is down. That seems counterintuitive in this era when there is so much attention devoted to the perils of climate change. Perhaps couch kids and their harried parents are simply spending less time in outdoor pursuits, or maybe the constant downbeat message on the environment has driven students away. Any thoughts?

As an aside, the federal government decided to end its funding of CCL in January. The money apparently runs out on March 31, so I suppose this is one of a handful of final reports working their way through the pipeline at the council.

Léo Charbonneau
Léo Charbonneau is the editor of University Affairs.
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