A resolution to engage


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Jobs once performed by high school graduates now call for university graduates and postgraduates, not because the work demands postgraduate credentials but because, given the oversupply, they can be had for the price of undergraduate credentials—or less.

The fluidity in the labour market continues because of a spate of free trade agreements and freedom of movement across borders—for money and assets, but not people. Employers who can’t find the education they want at the price they want to pay for it in one country will happily relocate parts or all of their operations to one where the supply is cheaper and readily available.

China is moving from competing on price to competing on innovation. It landed a lunar rover on the Moon on Dec. 14th, 2013. An Indian satellite is now in orbit around Mars. It sent its first photograph of the Red Planet back to Earth on September 29th of this year, less than a week after it arrived.

The transition from high school to university has nothing in common with the transition to high school from public school. No laws oblige us to educate our children beyond secondary school. Unless postgraduate or specialized education is mandatory, where an undergraduate career ends is where the world of work begins. Employers are free to accept all comers, or none.

Institutions of higher learning aren’t required to prepare our children for that world either. We pay our money and we take our chances. But we can improve the likelihood of translating higher education into a living wage by teaching our children how to factor an understanding of demand and supply into decisions about why they’re going to university in the first place.

In his comments to the TEDxToronto Conference on October 2nd, John Cruickshank, Publisher of the Toronto Star and President of Star Media Group, spoke of the implications of young people’s not engaging with society because technology has replaced newspapers as the new distraction. To use his phrase, young people are “zoning out”. He spoke of voter apathy and how it threatens Canada’s democracy when elites fill the vacuum created by voters who are indifferent to the electoral and political processes. Another implication is the extent of our lack of knowledge about the land we live on and the extended family of which we’re a part: 35 million of us spread across 6 time zones.

As of this moment, employers have little taste for degrees in the humanities. There are many reasons to hope that that will change, but when is anybody’s guess. Our priority should be to better align higher education with what we discover by exploring and learning about what Canada needs so that our children can find employment, not unemployment, underemployment or unpaid internships.

This year has taught us a lot about what this country means to us. Cruickshank was right when he talked about engagement. A quick glance at the calendar says we’re a little over a month away from New Year’s Eve. Maybe this will be the year we resolve to learn more and care more about this place.


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