Slow out of the gate, university grads fare better than other Canadians: study

You're not imagining it — it does take university grads longer to find jobs these days. But a new report suggests those who hold degrees fare better than average down the road, meaning a university degree still looks like a good return on investment.

It takes longer for young people to get established in their careers, but university degree still worthwhile

Emily Mackey, a third-year English student at Ryerson University in Toronto, said she feels a little nervous about the job prospects facing her at graduation, but still feels her undergraduate degree is a good investment. (Kristina Vanek photo)

Young people entering the job market straight out of university may hit a bit of bumpy road at the start.

But while university grads may find the job hunt slow out of the gate, they fare better than average in the labour market just a few years down the road, according to a new report.

Unemployment has always been higher than average among youth because they have less work experience than older Canadians. But the job prospects for this cohort still haven't fully recovered from the 2008-2009 recession, said Brendon Bernard, a labour market economist with job site Indeed Canada, which compiled the report based on Statistics Canada data and its own site analytics.

Unemployment for grads under 25 was at 8.9 per cent in 2018, compared to an average of 7.8 per cent in the years between 2000 and 2008.

"We found that among the youngest recent grads under 25, their unemployment rates are relatively high compared to where they were throughout the first decade of the 2000s," said Bernard.

While the youngest university graduates are still more likely to be unemployed than they were in those pre-recession boom years, they can expect things to improve in a few years: among people with a degree in the 25- to 44-year-old group, unemployment is below historical averages, he said.

Having that education is still a clear benefit in the labour market.

Brendon Bernard, a labour economist for job site Indeed Canada, said while university graduates may have a little trouble establishing themselves in the workforce at the beginning, Statistics Canada data shows those with a university degree fare better in the next age bracket: 25 and older. (Indeed Canada)

While the unemployment rate among all 25- to 44-year-olds in Canada averaged at five per cent over the course of 2018, it was 4.2 per cent for those who hold a minimum of one university degree.

Although that difference may seem slight, in a low-unemployment environment even subtle differences are worth noting, said Bernard. 

Although Statistics Canada doesn't break out educational data for narrower age ranges, one positive sign for people entering the job market is that the employment rate of people 25 to 29 is historically quite strong, at slightly above 80 per cent, he said. 

"A large number of those 25- to 29-year-olds will be university educated."

That's welcome news for students like Emily Mackey, who is going into her third year at Toronto's Ryerson University, where she's studying English with a focus on editing.

Still, Mackey said she's feeling a bit anxious about her job prospects when she's done, despite the fact that she's landed a communications internship in her home town of Sarnia, Ont., after her second year.

When we're younger, all we hear is: the more you go to school, the better job opportunities you have. And while that's true down the road, it's really difficult for us to find jobs right off the bat.- Emily Mackey, third-year Ryerson student

"I'm a pretty optimistic person, but I notice more and more as I have friends that are graduating that they're really, really stressed about how they're going to find work and what field they're going to go into. And it's kind of making me more nervous."

Mackey said that her friends who have already graduated are taking "a really long time to find jobs." 

"When we're younger, all we hear is: the more you go to school, the better job opportunities you have. And while that's true down the road, it's really difficult for us to find jobs right off the bat."

Although she plans to continue her studies at college after she's completed her undergraduate years, Mackey said she still feels that her degree is a good investment.

"These college programs that I'm going into, they're graduate programs — and I can't do those without a degree." While the entry-level jobs she gets to start might not require a degree, Mackey said the ones she'll shoot for down the road as she gets more experience certainly will.

Despite her nerves, Mackey said she looks forward to seeing what the future holds.

"As technology gets more and more prominent in our lives, more jobs are opening up. More remote jobs are opening up, I think. It's going to be a really interesting labour market that we're graduating into." 

A computer engineering student from the University of Alberta, Zach Drever is in his last co-op term before he graduates. He's working for software consulting firm DevFacto in Edmonton, and said he feels that his job prospects are good. (Submitted by Zach Drever)

University of Alberta computer engineering student Zack Drever is in his program's final co-op placement, this time at software consulting firm DevFacto. 

Despite the province's economic downturn brought about by struggles in the energy sector, Drever said he sees good job prospects ahead for people with his education. "We're moving slowly toward a better technology sector in Alberta."

Many people from his program have taken jobs in the U.S. with companies like Microsoft. "But I would like to stay in Canada if I can find something competitive here," said Drever. 

'Be prepared to be life-long learners'

Jonathan Lister, LinkedIn's country manager for Canada and vice-president of global sales solutions, said he believes students get their money's worth out of degree programs.

"I'm a firm believer in education of all kinds," he said. "I think that the statistics are still pretty clear that undergraduate education pays off significantly, relative to a non-undergraduate education."

But the end of university isn't necessarily the end of education. Given that job tenure is so much shorter and skills gaps are developing in the labour market, Lister said all workers will have to be prepared to be life-long learners.

"It's broadly great to have an undergraduate degree, but you're still going to have to learn throughout your career in a way we haven't had to before."


Brandie Weikle is a senior writer for CBC News based in Toronto. She's a long-time magazine and newspaper editor and podcast host with specialities in family life, health and the workplace. You can reach her at


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