Remember when everyone was freaking out because there were too many sociology graduates and not enough welders? When otherwise serious people like Ken Coates complained about the labour market being distorted by the uninformed choices of 17-19 year-olds? 2015 seems like a long time ago.
Just for fun the other day, I decided to look at which occupations have fared best and worst in Canada over the past ten years (ok, I grant you my definition of fun may not be universal). Using public data, the most granular data I can look at are two-digit National Occupation Codes, so some of these categories are kind of broad. But anyway, here are the results:
Table 1: Fastest-growing occupations in Canada, 2007-2017
See any trades in there? No, me neither. Four out of the top ten fastest-growing occupations are health-related in one way or another. There are two sets of professional jobs – law/social/community/ government services (which includes educational consultants, btw) and natural/applied sciences) which pretty clearly require bachelor’s if not master’s degrees. There are three other categories (Admin/financial supervisors, Technical occupations in art, and paraprofessional occupations in legal, social, etc) which have a hodgepodge of educational requirements but on balance probably have more college than university graduates. And then there is the category retail sales supervisors and specialized sales occupations, which takes in everything from head cashiers to real estate agents and aircraft sales representatives. Hard to know what to make of that one. But the other nine all seem to require training which is pretty squarely in traditional post-secondary education specialties.
Now, what about the ten worst-performing occupations?
Table 2: Fastest-shrinking Occupations in Canada 2007-2017
This is an interesting grab bag. I’m fairly sure, given the amount of whining about managerialism one hears these days, that it will be a surprise to most people that the single worst-performing job sector in Canada is “senior management occupations”. It’s probably less of a surprise that four of the bottom ten occupations are manufacturing-related, and that two others – Distribution, Tracking and Scheduling and Office Support Occupations – which are highly susceptible to automation are there, too. But interestingly, almost none of these occupations, bar senior managers, have significant numbers of university graduates in them. Many wouldn’t even necessarily have a lot of college graduates either, at least outside the manufacturing and resources sectors.
Allow me to hammer this point home a bit, for anyone who is inclined to ever again take Ken Coates or his ilk seriously on the subject of young people’s career choices. Trades are really important in Canada. But the industries they serve are cyclical. If we counsel people to go into these areas, we need to be honest that people in these areas are going to have fat years and lean years – sometimes lasting as long as a decade at a time. On the other hand, professional occupations (nearly all requiring university study) and health occupations (a mix of university and college study) are long-term winners.
Maybe students knew that all along, and behaved accordingly. When it comes to their own futures, they’re pretty smart, you know.