Where did all the jobs go?

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After five weeks, 120 surveys, countless conversations with patrons, and many, many, photocopies, Lianna and I finished the patron survey for the summer of 2010. It seems to be a victory for both of us at the first glance, but we’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg. What comes now is the daunting task of synthesizing all the data and information collected through the surveys, covering a wide variety of issues such as job security, government pensions, education, service quality at the food hamper program, and some household information.

In the beginning, I was struggling to come up with a specific topic to pull out of the survey and focus on for a blog post while reading through all the results. After an hour of pen-biting and bird-watching at my desk, I went to our program supervisor, Matt, for some advice, who also happens to be a master at MS Excel. With help from him, I realized that the issues of education and employment go hand in hand with one another, and thus, I’ve decided to use this opportunity to present and discuss some interesting results we found from the surveys concerning patrons’ education and their employment status.

Of the 120 people who we’ve surveyed, 78 indicated that high school is their highest completed level of education, which translates into 65% of the entire sample. About half of those people didn’t even finish highschool. The median age of those who have completed some or all of high school is 36 years old, which means they attended high school about 20 years ago when they were teenagers. Based on research by Statistics Canada, these high school graduates most likely ended up working in a manufacturing plant for two convincing reasons: university graduates were more than two and a half times as likely to work in business services as workers with a high school education or less; and, working in consumer services would earn them on average $10,000 less than working in the manufacturing sector.

However, during the global economic restructuring of the 1990s, manufacturing jobs started to dry up or be shipped elsewhere, such as developing countries like China and India which have different, cheaper labour markets. According to statistics Canada, overall employment in Canada’s major cities grow 29% between 1986 and 2001, but employment in manufacturing stalled, growing by just 1%. In contrast, employment in business services industries grew 72%. Generally, employment has shifted away from manufacturing in all metropolitan areas across Canada. Some cities like Sherbrooke, Hamilton, Kitchener and Windsor which still had a relatively high percentage of their population employed in manufacturing have increasingly felt the pinch as businesses close and workers are displaced.  Over the last few years, this communities news media have provided extensive coverage of factory closures, layoffs and the personal turmoil it brings.

Our survey found that only 21 of the 78 people who had at most a high school  education are currently being employed as a full-timer, part-timer, or temporary worker. On the other hand, 48 people in the sample are receiving some sort of unemployment benefits, such as Ontario Works (OW) or Employment Insurance (EI). This can be best explained by the difficulty these people have in transitioning from a more industrial economy to a more skilled service and knowledge based economy. Managers in these expanding industries are more interested in younger, university educated workers who expect less pay, leaving older workers who were previously employed in the manufacturing sector in a less competitive position and thus out of a job with their limited credentials and a largely non-transferable skill set.

The effect of inadequate education is prominent: workers are exposed to greater risks in the face of global economic reform and crisis as labour markets shift. One solution is more incentives and lower barriers for post-secondary education in Canada, for example, by providing more tuition cuts, bursaries and tax credits. In the short term, however, retraining programs for older displaced workers  could be expanded and strengthened as global economic reform continues and labour markets evolve. In the long term, the future of our community resides in the hands of young people; providing them as much encouragement and support in the completion of highschool is vital, as well as granting them access to universities and other higher education. These would be the first step towards building a better future.

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