According to the province, the number of post-secondary students employed after graduation, or continuing with further education, has decreased by 10 per cent since 2013.
The Ministry of Advanced Education’s 2017-18 report, with recommendations from the Auditor General’s Office, presented the written document which included falling employment rates after graduation. The report and recommendations were presented to the Alberta Legislature all-party standing committee on public accounts on March 19. MLAs questioned the ministry about what they are doing to improve employability for new graduates within the province of Alberta.
In 2013, 75 per cent of students said they were either employed or engaging in further schooling after graduating from post-secondary, compared to only 65 per cent in 2018.
According to the report, the downturn in employability could be due to the drop in apprenticeships available, and that more students tend to be hired in times of a stronger economy.
At the meeting, MLAs from the United Conservative Party and the Alberta Party were alarmed by the figures.
Alberta Party MLA Greg Clark said this was a dramatic decline for students and asked the ministry what they were doing to improve the situation for recent graduates.
Rod Skura, Deputy Minister of Advanced Education, said this decline could mainly be attributed to the downturn in the economy. He added the ministry is constantly checking in with universities to see if any improvements could be made to the system and that individual institutions know best how to provide training and classes that will employ future students.
“I would not say we sat around and did nothing,” he said.
Skura also said the ministry is looking at offering more work-integrated learning components to existing programs, and ensuring that universities receive funding for emerging fields like technology-related studies. Starting in 2018, the province also started offering skills retraining programs for graduated engineers to be retrained and transitioned into more in-demand fields.
Clark pressed Skura further by asking why it took until 2018 for the government to respond to the situation, like by providing funding for more technology related spaces at universities, when the numbers started declining years before.
“[Many of these measures] feel like a reactive kind of thing,” Clark said. “What I am curious about is why it took you until 2018 to respond to what was clearly a crisis.”
Skura responded that it takes time for individual universities in the province to understand and respond to employment trends.
“We went through a fairly drastic or significant change in the economy,” Skura said. “It takes a little bit of time to sit back and redeploy resources in the areas that we think that will have the biggest impact [for students].”
U of A Career Centre
agrees employment is down, but opportunities are still out there
Blessie Mathew, manager of career education at the University of Alberta Career Centre, said the overall trend in the economy currently is that employment, in general, is more difficult to attain.
“It is hard to say whether I can disagree or agree directly with the number [put forward by the report],” Mathew said. “What I will agree with is… it is becoming more difficult for [student] employment post-graduation.”
She said based on current job postings, media reports, and students reporting back to the centre, it is more likely for students to attain gig-based or short-term contract employment instead of steady full-time jobs. Further, she said there are significant regional differences in Alberta based on employability.
Mathew said students should take these statistics “with a grain of salt” as those figures can include students completing certificate diplomas and other programs, not just recent undergraduates. She said the Career Centre is getting ready to conduct its own study on the employability of recent U of A graduates later this year, adding that the last study was done five years ago.
Mathew said while employability is trending down for recent graduates, this is an overall statistic and may not accurately represent all industries. Mathew also said there are still many opportunities for students to differentiate themselves within the job market and grow their chances of landing a job through internships, workshops at the Career Centre, and experiential learning programs.
“Employment is always difficult,” she said. “Economies shift constantly. It is important for post-secondary students to do whatever they can while in university to increase their employability.”