|Abstract: ||Post-secondary education (PSE) institutions in Canada serve as the primary means by which most individuals in highly skilled occupations gain the qualifications necessary to succeed in the labour force. For this reason, their responsiveness to changes in the labour market is essential to ensuring a productive economy.
Currently in Canada, employers of specific occupations and in certain regions are reporting that they are experiencing shortages of skilled workers. At the same time, employers across various sectors are stating that PSE graduates are lacking certain skills, including basic literacy and numeracy skills, soft skills, specific specializations and combinations of degrees.
In the labour market, as shortages in particular occupations or for particular skills emerge, employers are normally expected to respond in a variety of ways, including increasing wages. This in turn, attracts more people to the profession until the shortage is filled. This system, however, is dependent on the responsiveness of the PSE system to changes in the labour market. In theory, the higher wages and other incentives in occupations facing shortages should encourage more students to want to pursue related fields of studies. PSE institutions would then be expected to respond to the increased demand by increasing enrolment or the quantity of seats supplied.
In practice, there are many factors constraining this responsiveness in programs with increased demand both on the supply and demand sides. For example, many people in the PSE system do not believe it is their responsibility to be responsive to the labour market. PSE institutions also face institutionalized constraints and cultural or governance factors which make responsiveness slow and difficult. Furthermore, students do not always receive the signals from the labour market, nor know how to respond even when they do. Employers are also demanding new types of skills and combinations of skills that may not appear to be in shortage in traditional measures of collecting labour market information. This likely means there are shortages in the populace’s skillsets that are going unnoticed by policy makers, students and the PSE system alike.
That being said, Canadian PSE institutions have managed to do a reasonable job at responding to changes in the labour market in the past. Furthermore, there are examples of universities, and particularly colleges, which have responded by finding ways to increase their students’ employability skills on an ad hoc basis. These include co-op programs and PSE-private sector partnerships for experiential learning and curricula development. Some institutions have also increased extra-curricular activities on their campus to improve their students’ skills while also maintaining academic freedom.
Other countries have taken far more action to make their PSE systems more responsive to their labour markets on a system-wide level. Australia, Germany, the United Kingdom, Sweden and France, all have good practices that Canada could learn from. This paper recommends following their models in improving the collection and dissemination of learning and labour market information to help students make better informed decisions and help PSE institutions to be more responsive to current skills needs. It also recommends increasing experiential learning opportunities and partnerships for curricula reform between the private sector and the PSE system in order to ensure a level of responsiveness necessary for graduates to succeed in the labour market and for the country to remain competitive.|