Yuni Kim just graduated from teachers college. But her chance of getting a job in her field any time soon is remote. There's a glut of her peers on the market, and nobody's hiring.
"A lot of us will be heading overseas because there's nothing here for us," she told me. In her graduating class of 50 at York University, just one person got an interview.
For years, teachers colleges have been churning out far more teachers than the market requires. Last year, British Columbia had 2,700 unemployed teachers for 800 available positions. Nova Scotia needs fewer than 300 new teachers a year, but produces three times that number. In Ontario, more than a third of last year's graduating teachers were unable to find any work at all in their profession, not even daily supply teaching. Another third are underemployed. Just 8 per cent of new primary school teachers landed regular positions.
The teacher glut hasn't exactly been a secret. It began in the mid-2000s and has been snowballing ever since. Today, Ontario has 30,000 surplus teachers who've wasted time and money qualifying for jobs that don't exist.
"Right now, I owe OSAP around $25,000," said Ms. Kim, 22, referring to Ontario's student loan program. Still, she believes she's one of the lucky ones. Some of her friends – the ones who didn't live at home – have $40,000 in debt. Some can't go overseas for work because they have young families. Some of last year's graduates are working two or three jobs to make ends meet, hoping they'll get calls for supply work next fall.
When Ms. Kim enrolled in teachers college, she knew the job market would be tough, but she didn't know how tough. And nobody bothered to level with her. "I'm not an economist, " she says. "But I'm pretty sure that maybe the supply should match the demand."
On Wednesday, the Ontario government announced it will cut teachers college enrolment in half, from 9,000 to 4,500, and double the amount of time it takes to get a teaching degree, from one year to two. This neatly solves the problem of what to do with the people employed at teachers colleges, whose jobs will remain intact. It also doubles the cost of a degree, which keeps the money flowing but won't make students very happy.
Whether that extra year will improve teaching quality is another matter. Some people wonder whether a Grade 2 teacher really needs five years of postsecondary education, let alone six. But jacking up academic requirements is a time-honoured way of jacking up pay, and in Ontario, a Grade 2 teacher tops out at more than $90,000 – if she can land a job.
"The education of elementary school teachers is a good example of how universities have been used to raise the professional status of certain occupations," say Ken Coates and Bill Morrison in their fine book Campus Confidential. "… It's hard to think that a Grade 2 teacher needs as much training as a physician does."
The teachers college mess illustrates how badly out of touch our higher-education system is with the labour market. No one can predict the job market with pinpoint precision, of course. But it can't be too tough to figure out how many teachers might be needed in five years' time. It's cruel to train students for jobs that won't be there.
The broader problem is credential overproduction. We are simply cranking out far more degree-holders than the market needs. In the United States, barely half of university graduates are in occupations that require bachelors' degrees or more. They are significantly underemployed and likely to remain so, even as the economy picks up. The fastest-growing occupations of the future do not require university degrees.
A related problem is credential inflation. The question about Grade 2 teachers applies to many other fields. Do you really need a degree in kinesiology to be a fitness instructor?
Contrary to popular belief, we don't need more BAs. Instead, we need more focused postsecondary programs that get more students into the world of work faster – and more cheaply. Otherwise, we'll have even more young adults trying to pay back massive student loans working $12-an-hour jobs.
"A lot of my friends with teaching degrees are working at convenience stores or The Brick," says Ms. Kim, who has been blogging about her experience for Maclean's. "They tell us that people will retire … eventually."