Geoff Johnson: Post-secondary education is more important now than ever

So you’ve made it through high school, which means you are joining an elite group internationally. According to the Conference Board of Canada, this country earns an “A” for its high-school completion rate, and ranks second out of 16 peer countries.

However, you might feel you are facing more uncertainties in the current climate than normal, so this is a good time for both some good news and some not-so-good news about what the future might hold, career-wise.

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But first, the bad news. You’d be justified in some level of anxiety about the future if you have plans never to darken the doorway of some kind of classroom again.

Recent graduates who enter the labour force straight out of high school are not faring as well as previous generations. That’s partly because 88 per cent of working-age Canadians have already graduated from high school and the competition for jobs which require only high school graduation is fierce.

The better news is that Canadian high-school graduates who pursue some level of post-secondary education or training do much better financially in the long run.

But as a Grade 12 grad, you probably already know all that. The somewhat more hopeful news is that baby boomers now make up Canada’s largest demographic group, and many are nearing retirement.

According to Statistics Canada, the baby-boomer generation made up almost 26 per cent of the population in 2018. And by 2024, one in five Canadians will be 65 or older.

That means many job opportunities could become available for younger Canadians who still have all or most of their careers ahead of them.

That’s an encouraging prospect for this year’s Grade 12 grads, but just as important as increasing job availability will be, according to the Conference Board of Canada, the kind of flexibility that some form of post-secondary education offers.

If current trends continue, Canadians can expect to hold as many 15 jobs, sometimes on different career paths and sometimes as variations of the original career direction.

A survey of 4,000 Canadians in September and October last year found that only six per cent of people have held just one job in their career, while 16 per cent said that they had already held more than 10.

Times have changed since previous generations posted a qualification and then worked in the same career all their lives. Job security, benefits and pensions defined their decision not to branch out.

So the not-so-good news for high school grads who think it’s all over is that their education is not over by far.

There is a growing consensus among employers that high-school completion is simply the prerequisite, a first step to post-secondary education of some kind.

A post-secondary qualification of some kind, even if it does not apply specifically to a job, is now deemed essential to success in a wide variety of labour-market opportunities.

Again, according to StatCan and other people who keep track of employment trends, most Canadians don’t think they will stay in the same line of work for their entire career.

In a survey of more than 1,000 people, nearly 73 per cent said that they do not expect to remain in the same profession for life. The most common reasons people gave for changing career paths range from discovering a new opportunities they have become passionate about (35 per cent), becoming bored/disillusioned with their original work (24 per cent), and a variety of setbacks, real or imagined, such as lack of advancement and cutbacks in times like these that result in layoffs (19 per cent).

That at least takes some pressure off the immediate decision to commit to a lifelong career direction.

Beyond that, there is a long lineup of notable people, too many to mention here, who did not discover what they really wanted to do until somewhat later in life.

Andrea Bocelli began singing opera when he was 34 and Martha Stewart was 35 when she started her catering business in a friend’s basement. She was 42 when her first book of recipes was published.

J.K. Rowling was a divorced mother on public assistance before she created Harry Potter at age 35, and the list goes on.

None of this has anything to do with being a “late bloomer.” It is simply illustrative of the fact that the decisions that you, as a newly certificated Grade 12 graduate, make now might, or more likely might not, lead to a lifelong career.

But with some post-secondary qualifications, the variety of opportunities is probably better than ever before.

Geoff Johnson is a former superintendent of schools.

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