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University pays off in two years, Ontario survey finds

Last Updated Sep 1, 2015 at 5:45 pm EDT

Graduates at York University during the spring convocation on June 12, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Dominic Chan

As a university student, you’ve invested in your education, spent long hours studying, took on internships while balancing a job to pay for your tuition, with the hope of reaping some benefits in the workplace after graduation.

But are there good jobs out there for recent graduates? A survey conducted for Ontario’s Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities says almost 94 per cent of Ontario graduates from undergraduate programs landed jobs – full-time, part-time and business startups – jobs two years after commencement.

The Grad Survey, released by the Council of Ontario Universities on Tuesday, surveyed graduates from undergraduate programs. Those working full-time were able to snag jobs in their field, or related to the skills acquired at university, that pay an average of $49,001, two years after graduation. Statistics Canada defines full-time work as working 30 hours or more per week.

The scenario is somewhat less rosy for those who landed jobs six months after graduation. The average employment rate was 87.6 per cent with an average salary of $42,301.

“University graduates can count on getting well-paying jobs in their fields soon after leaving university,” Patrick Deane, chair of the Council of Ontario Universities and president of McMaster University, said in a release.

The council’s president said data shows university graduates have the highest employment rates and income compared to other levels of education.

“The unmatched employment outcomes for university graduates demonstrate that universities are equipping students with the skills employers value,” council president Bonnie Patterson said in a statement.

Caroline Konrad, director at Ryerson University’s career centre, said that while the survey provides helpful data, she would like to see Canada adopt models similar to the UK’s Destinations for Leavers in Higher Education survey.

This UK one looks at “how the graduate role was found, where it is located and subsequently grades each position by the level of graduate skill required,” Konrad said in an email.

The council surveyed 76,625 students who graduated from Ontario universities in 2012, and was done between November 2014 and March 2015. However, only 28,448 responded.

“I’d like to see future surveys add further detail and increase their response rate,” Konrad said.

While some students may have difficulty getting a job in their field, others who land a job may not be using the skills they acquired at university. However, the council said those skills are transferable.

“Skills learned at university can be transferred within the knowledge economy as the job market changes and demands that people take on the jobs of the future,” Patterson said.

Around 89 per cent of graduates surveyed who landed full-time employment felt their job was related to the skills they harnessed at university. Close to 78 per cent said their job correlated to their program of study. These numbers are based on the two-year post-graduation period. However, they are in the same percentage bracket for those employed six months after graduation.

Konrad agrees that graduates are finding jobs in their field, or at least utilizing some of the skills they’ve acquired at university, but that students must focus on garnering work experience at the onset.

She also said at times, a student’s field of study in the first year may change down the road.

“I’ve seen theatre graduates utilize their project management, communications and events development skills gained from their degree to proceed to seek out and build careers in university administration and programming,” Konrad said.

Below is an infographic that breaks down the report’s numbers, or click here for a mobile-friendly version.

Breakdown of data in the Council of Ontario Universities' 2015 Grad Survey. Infographic via cou.on.ca
Breakdown of data in the Council of Ontario Universities’ Grad Survey released on Sept. 1, 2015. Infographic via cou.on.ca


Read the report by the Council of Ontario Universities below, or click here for a mobile-friendly version. The survey was carried out by CCI Research Inc.

Council of Ontario Universities grad survey

Konrad said students need to understand that “while the degree is an essential tool in building one’s career, it is part of the candidate’s overall package.”

She stresses it is vital for both university and college students to incorporate career development at university starting in their first year, such as work experience gained from internships or a part-time job, volunteer work or being in a club.

“Employers are seeking reassurance that candidates are accustomed to adapting and thriving in a professional environment.”

Konrad also said students should be told to keep in mind that careers evolve over time.

“Graduates today will hold as many as 15 roles over the course of their career and change sectors on average up to three times.”

Last month, Statistics Canada said the economy added around 6,600 jobs in July with the unemployment rate steady at 6.8 per cent for a six-month stretch. There were more people with part-time jobs and fewer people who had full-time employment.

And, most of the gains were for men between the ages of 25 to 54, adding there was little change among women and youth.

Correction: The Council of Ontario Universities previously stated in a release that the 94 per cent represented full-time jobs. It has since clarified to say the figure includes full-time and part-time jobs, and those who start their own business.