New evidence shows recent graduates of Ontario universities are doing worse on almost all measures of employment compared to those who graduated before the recession.
Since 2006, unemployment for all university graduates has risen and their ability to find work related to their fields has dropped, shows this year's annual graduate survey released by the Council of Ontario Universities. When accounting for inflation, average salaries have also declined. In spite of the economic recovery, the wider labour market has seen the same lag in wage gains, one that economists are trying to understand.
Humanities graduates have been particularly affected, with their real earnings dropping steeply from what they could expect a decade ago. Salaries in other disciplines, even in jobs in demand like business and engineering, are unchanged after inflation. (The salary numbers in the survey are not adjusted for inflation.)
"Our labour market has preformed better than average – but wages have grown at a snail's pace," said Derek Burleton, deputy chief economist at TD Bank Financial Group.
Before the 2008-2009 recession, humanities graduates had actually seen their earnings two years after graduation go up. But since a 2006 peak, they have declined. Outside of professional faculties like dentistry or medicine, computer science is one of the few disciplines where wage gains have been steady.
The reality of the job market has sent some graduates back to school and left others wondering how they are expected to get a foothold in the job market.
After getting two science degrees in life sciences and health management from McMaster University and York University, Fereshteh Tabatabaei found work as an administrative assistant working alongside college graduates. When she interviewed with pharmaceutical companies, it was for sales jobs rather than positions where her background would be relevant. Now she is back at McMaster studying toward a master's degree in medical sciences and hoping it will land her a job in policy development.
"If I had chosen business, I would have been in a different position, where my student loans would have been paid off," Ms. Tabatabaei said.
One of the only bright areas in the survey is that 93 per cent of 2011 university graduates found jobs two years after graduating, a number only slightly lower than for 2006 grads.
"The numbers do refute the idea that the young are facing a lost generation," Mr. Burleton said.
Getting that first foothold in the economy is difficult, however. In some disciplines, almost a fifth of those polled had not found work six months after graduating. Brandon Clim, who graduated with a political science degree from the University of Ottawa this June, says he will soon have to think about accepting jobs that pay $11 an hour.
Many employers are looking for three to five years' experience and he does not have that. "I was fortunate not to have to work during my studies – now that's become an impediment," Mr. Clim said.
One thing that could have helped him would have been a co-op placement through the university, but he applied in third year and was told it was too late to participate. Still, universities are creating more experiential and co-op arrangements, particularly for students in fields where jobs are harder to find, said Bonnie Patterson, the president and CEO of the council.
More than 25,000 students responded to the survey done for the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.