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Margin Notes

The link between higher ed and a career

What happens when a “good education” doesn’t lead to a good job?


What should you do if you’ve “done everything right” – went to university, perhaps even grad school – and yet you’ve failed to land meaningful employment? I have no career advice to offer, but do suggest you might have a look at a new blog by Laura Servage, a doctoral student at the University of Alberta. It’s called “My So-Called Career” (nice reference to one of my favourite shows from the ’90s), and focuses on “when your education and training hasn’t produced that ‘career’ after all.”

Ms. Servage’s studies focus on transitions from postsecondary education to work, work and learning, and Canadian higher education. The blog is part of her doctoral research. Under the title, “Over-educated, Under-employed,” she explains the blog’s premise:


You’ve been hearing forever that you need a good education to get a good job. You bought in. Now you’re under-employed. Or not employed at all. I started this website to gather media, research, and stories for and about people who’ve “done everything right” but haven’t got the great job they thought they would. … I want to understand why governments continue to promote higher education even as “good jobs” become more and more scarce.

It’s a touchy topic within the postsecondary education sector. Universities continue to extol the virtues of higher education, obviously, and in general I do strongly believe that there are enormous benefits to Canada of a robust, expansive and well-resourced postsecondary education sector. At the same time, I do see a growing sense of unease from some commentators that a degree may not have the payoff that students expect. Ms. Servage is clearly among them. From a recent blog entry, she writes:

What’s interesting to me is that the argument for ceaseless expansion of post-secondary education functions as a very effective distraction from much more fundamental issues that are routinely overlooked or ignored by post-sec stakeholders. These include: a lack of secure, quality jobs; significant increases in “precarious labour” (that’s crappy part-time, temporary and contract work); credentials and relevant experience not as objective requirements to do a job well, but as “gate-keeping” or “screening” tools when there are too many qualified people chasing too few jobs.

She continues, “you really have to wonder about this whole ‘knowledge economy’ thing.” Critics have argued — and from her own research, she concurs — that the knowledge economy and the skilled labour it requires is more about speculation than empirical certainty. The promise is always coming, she says, but never fully arrives.

A bit of an over-generalization, I’d say, but compelling nonetheless. Your thoughts?

Léo Charbonneau
Léo Charbonneau is a former editor of University Affairs.
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  1. Jo VanEvery / February 17, 2010 at 15:32

    I also think that there is a situation where people think that ALL they need is the good education. And they haven’t really done other things during their time at university to build the experience, skills, and network that will help them find good jobs and succeed in them.