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  • Writer's picturePhil Jarvis

Success Without A Degree?

When millions of students headed back to school this fall, they were confronted with uncertain and potentially dangerous COVID-19-defined hybrid or blended learning environments. Thousands more found themselves facing their first September outside of the education system, grappling with even more precarious employment prospects due to the pandemic, and a sinking feeling they have been led astray and are not ready.

“… and a sinking feeling they have been

led astray and are not ready.”

Even before COVID-19, roughly 1 in 3 young people, even those with degrees, failed to transition smoothly from school to work. Many began their careers in low wage jobs unrelated to their studies and interests. Many have spent years unsure how, or if, they will ever land a “good” job, pay down student debt, buy a house, a car, or build a life like their parents did.

Too often, this “failure to launch” is regarded as a personal failing, one brought about by a lack of self-discipline, poor planning, or an overall sense of entitlement. But this is a societal issue — one that affects all of us.

Unemployment, underemployment, employee dissatisfaction and disengagement cost the nation tens of billions of dollars each year. Given our aging population, we need to get young people in the right jobs early in their careers. Over the next 30 years, they will become our family, community, business, and government leaders. They will also carry the primary burden of taxation. Those who spend their early adulthood drifting between unemployment and underemployment risk a lifelong hit to earnings and lifestyle. The hit will be felt by our society as a whole.

“The hit will be felt by our society as a whole.”

Students are in school from the time they start kindergarten until they enter the workforce. School curriculum is designed to prepare students for what educators view as the pinnacle of education, university, not for jobs. Whether spoken or unspoken, other outcomes are viewed as less desirable, fallback alternatives. Teachers rarely have the knowledge, training, time, or resources to help students explore all learning pathways to the full spectrum of in-demand careers and prepare them for lifelong employment.

But we do not need all, or even most students to go to university. For years, the mantra has been that 70% of 21st century jobs require post-secondary education. That may be an understatement. But postsecondary education includes diploma and short-term certificate community college programs, private vocation training, apprenticeships, specific occupational training, and industry/professional association certifications.

Only 25% of today’s job vacancies require an undergraduate or graduate degree. Postsecondary alternatives to university lead to good jobs in career sectors hungry for new talent years sooner at considerably less cost. Income years sooner and little or no debt is a winning ROI formula, with university always an option later in life.

“75% of projected job vacancies do NOT require a university degree or heavy student loan debt.”

Many students cannot thrive in traditional academic environments. They fail to see personal relevance in factoring polynomials or memorizing Shakespeare. Research shows that only 30-35% of high school students are “intellectually engaged.” Students enjoy friends, budding romance, clubs, and sports. Academics, not so much. Most just do what they are told and try to live up to their teachers’ and parents’ expectations.

“Far too many young people are casualties

of our elitist education system.”

Far too many young people are casualties of our elitist education system. 12.2% of Canadian youth (15-24) are not in education, employment of training (NEET). That equates to 1 million young people! A further 2 million are underemployed or misemployed in jobs unrelated to their education or interests [Atlantic Canada NEET Research Report, April 2020, ESDC]. Many are carrying heavy student loan debt. NEETs are anchors to prosperity. Helping these young people climb out of depression, despair, and dependency – not to mention their parent’s basements or off the street - is key to assuring a more prosperous future in any community.

Almost everyone knows a young person who is suffering from launch failure. The economic and human costs are staggering. Lost productivity, juvenile justice, prisons, social assistance, substance abuse, detox, rehab, mental health, broken families – add up to billions of dollars each year, not to mention the pain, despair, disappointment, and shame.

“The economic and human costs are staggering”

Correlation has never been established between intelligence and quitting school. Most dropouts either feel like a fish out of water in school or they are facing personal or family challenges beyond their capacity to cope, or both. Most have the wherewithal to enjoy a productive, fulfilling life. School has convinced many, who just need education that fits their interests and learning styles, they are losers. They need to be reassured that they deserve a good life. Most of all, they need people who know and care enough to offer a helping hand from failure to success in careers that do not require a degree.

Career development professionals in every community in Canada are ready, willing, and able to help people of any age and circumstance to find learning and career pathways that will bring them more happiness. Reach out to them at

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