COVER

WHY COLLEGE GRADS GET JOBS

ROBERT SHEPPARD October 26 1998
COVER

WHY COLLEGE GRADS GET JOBS

ROBERT SHEPPARD October 26 1998

WHERE THE JOBS ARE

COVER

As technologies change and new ones emerge the challenge is to equip students for the future

D’ARCY JENISH

Sheldon Levy may be a major player in preparing Canadian students for the 21st century. And yet here he is, seated in the spartan president’s office at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ont. with his tie loose, his face flush, expounding on Gutenburg’s revolutionary 15th-century invention—the printing press. Moments later, he’s on to one of the great technological leaps of this century: the wiring of cities, towns and rural areas for electricity. Levy believes that history contains pivotal lessons for the information age. “People were initially fascinated with the technology of the printing press, but soon realized that it was the quality of the books that counted,” he says. “Hydro is now taken for granted, but the economy is built on the appliances we plug into the wall. I say to young people: ‘Don’t get overly impressed by technology.’ What’s important is the ability to communicate and the quality of the content.”

Frank Sorochinsky might beg to differ, and he, too, leads an institution—George Brown College in Toronto—that is preparing

students for careers in the next century. He believes that technology will fuel hundreds of thousands of jobs for the foreseeable future. As one example, he cites the predominance of such microelectronic devices as computer chips and semi-conductors, used in everything from hearing aids to automated teller machines to hand-held garage door openers. With the support of 15 industrial partners, George Brown has responded by creating a Centre for Advanced Microelectronic Technology, scheduled to begin admitting 168 students next September. “Micro-electronics is a foundation technology for the information age,” says Sorochinsky, “just as steel was a foundation for the industrial age.”

Neither president has a crystal ball, but one thing is certain: like all college educators, they face the challenge of ensuring that their students graduate with marketable skills. And that challenge has never been tougher, given the rate at which established technologies are changing and new ones emerging. “There is no accurate system for predicting demand for specific jobs,” says Michael Bloom, principal research associate with the Ottawa-based Conference Board of Canada, a private, non-profit organization that studies economic and educational trends. “The more detailed you get, the harder it is to give direct advice.”

he challenge is to equip students for the future

Still, Bloom and others agree that Canada will need more knowledge workers, including professionals such as engineers and architects, as well as college-trained technologists for manufacturing, communications, information technology and other fields. This trend is already well documented, says Bloom, noting that knowledge workers represented 13.1 per cent of the labor force in 1996, up from 6.3 per cent 25 years earlier. Employers are not only looking for specific skills acquired in an academic setting, but are placing much more emphasis on personal attributes, such as the ability to communicate effectively, work well with others and display initiative. Says Bloom: ‘Technical knowledge gives you an advantage, but you need other skills as well.”

Technological change is an understandable preoccupation of both students and educators. But changing demographics will create employment opportunities and increased demand for many services. Paul Byrne, president of Grant MacEwan Community

College in Edmonton, predicts a huge loss of experience and knowledge in the next decade as members of the baby boom generation hit 65, or take early retirement. Young people, many of them now in college, will have to fill the vacancies and knowledge gap, he says. The aging of the population, others believe, will increase the demand for financial planning, wealth management, health care, travel counselling and other services. “These are exciting times,” says Byrne. “But educators and students have to remember what Darwin said. It’s not necessarily the strongest or the smartest who is going to survive in the long run. It’s the one who is the most adaptable.”

For educators, that means adjusting course content to keep up with a rapidly changing world. For the student, it means finding a satisfying area of study, and one that will lead to a good job. “It is a much more complicated choice for the student than it used to be,” says Ray Ivany, president of the Halifax-based Nova Scotia Community College. “I still believe they should make a selection based on what they enjoy because education needs to be a labor of love. But it’s absolutely essential to do some research about the employment prospects, and to make an informed decision.” □

INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY

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WHERE THE JOBS ARE

Nine years ago, Sean Shrubsole sliced the tips off two of his fingers in an industrial accident. After undergoing surgery to have them reattached, he spent a couple of months recovering—months that he now sees as a turning point in his life. Up until then, the high-school dropout had held a series of jobs in the construction industry. Before his injury, he had taken a one-year college course in precision metal fabrication that had included some computer training, and by the winter of 1991 was enrolled full-time in a three-year computer technology program at Algonquin College in the Ottawa suburb of Nepean. Shrubsole worked as a part-time troubleshooter at a high-tech firm while studying and, after graduating, landed a dream job for a lifelong hockey fan: manager of computer and Internet services with the NHL’s Ottawa Senators. Shrubsole is responsible for the club’s information systems, which includes the computer technology required to produce everything from team statistics to routine bills. Says Shrubsole, now 32: “In one sense, it’s just like any other computer job. What makes it great is that it’s hockey, and it’s always a challenge.” Arron Miller says similar things about his job as a programmer/analyst with the City of Saskatoon. And like Shrubsole, he followed a circuitous path to a college diploma and a job in computing. Raised on a farm in Carrot River, Sask., 300 km northeast of Saskatoon, Miller spent five years at the Uni-

versity of Saskatchewan but still wound up several credits short of a degree in agricultural chemistry. His next stop, which lasted a year, was a laborer’s job with a farm implements manufacturer. Finally, in the fall of 1995, he enrolled in a two-year computer systems program at the Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology in Saskatoon. It proved to be an inspired choice. “I had she job offers coming out,” he says, “and one company wanted me to start two months before I was done school.” Now 28, he is part of a team enhancing new software to process tax assessments, notices and bills. The goal of the project, a joint venture involving the city and a Vancouver company, is to produce a customized program that can be marketed to other municipalities.

In the fast-paced, high-growth world of IT—information technology—Miller’s experience is not unusual. Opportunity often knocks before the diplomas are even handed out. Increasingly, recruiters are turning to colleges for graduates who can set up software programs or computer networks within businesses, industries and government departments. “They’re all trying to find people who can implement,” says Paul Swinwood, president of the Ottawa-based Software Human Resource Council of Canada. “We need PhDs working on what’s next. There’s tremendous potential for college graduates to be the make-it-work people.”

D’ARCY JENISH

MANUFACTURING

Stephen Van Houten, president of the Toronto-based Alliance of Manufacturers and Exporters Canada, is outlining the complexities of contemporary manufacturing. Take, for example, an auto assembly line producing full-size luxury vehicles. A white model requiring red velour seats is coming down the line, followed by a blue model needing grey velour seats. As the first vehicle arrives at the assembler’s station, a factory door opens and the correct seats arrive—what he calls just-in-time delivery. “Someone has to run the computer software programs that yield that kind of efficiency,” says Van Houten, “and someone out of college can be eminently suitable.” Suitable, and in high demand: Gerald Fedchun, president of the Toronto-based Automotive Parts’ Manufacturers Association predicts that over the next 10 years there will be a shortage of 14,000 skilled tradesmen in the Ontario parts industry. Those workers, he says, can now earn base salaries of $60,000 annually, and up to $100,000 with overtime. Says Fedchun: “Technology graduates from the college system have placement rates in excess of 90 per cent.”

For Joey Liska, 29, a graduate in electronics engineering technology from Nova Scotia Community College in Halifax, a diploma was the ticket to a good job.

Liska, enrolled in the two-year program in 1993 after failing tog find satisfactory em-s ployment with a busi-g ness administration g degree from Dalhousie

University. In fact, he* says, “ I went to work as a laborer in my brother-55 in-law’s dry-cleaning facility.” When he fin¡shed his college program in 1995, he had

a job waiting for him. Nautel Ltd., which manufactures broadcast transmitters for radio stations, hired him as an entry-level development technologist and later gave him a more demanding position as a custom product technologist. Liska relies on a computer to design new transmitters, with their complex internal electronic circuits, and tests the prototypes before the real thing is manufactured and goes on sale. “We use computers for everything,” he says. “It’s rewarding. There are always new innovations on the horizon.”

Windsor, Ont., native Jean-Paul Bouma, 25, finds his work equally rewarding. After graduating in 1994 with a diploma in mechanical engineering technology from the city’s St. Clair College of Applied Arts and Technology, he went to work as a designer with a small local firm, Aalbers Tool and Mould Inc. With the aid of sophisticated three-dimensional computer imaging, he designs moulds used to produce plastic parts for automobiles, refrigerators, photocopiers and many other goods. “It’s cutting-edge stuff,” he says. “I feel challenged every day.”

D.J.

TOURISM AND HOSPITALITY

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Shelli Geldart has an endearing weakness for the word gosh, especially when she talks about the hotel business, her chosen line of work. After graduating in 1993 from Holland College in Charlottetown with a hotel and restaurant management diploma, she started her career on the front desk at The Algonquin, a resort in St. Andrews, N.B. The 26-year-old now co-ordinates group sales of rooms for conventions and business meetings at The Palliser in Calgary. And there are two things she particularly likes about the hospitality industry. First, there are the people. “Gosh, you can meet anybody in this business,” she says. “I used to get excited when entertainers like Blue Rodeo or Sarah McLachlan walked up to the front desk. Now it’s the politicians. I met Frank McKenna in the lobby the other day and we chatted for quite a while.” Then, there are the career opportunities. “Gosh,” she says, “you can work anywhere in the world.”

The prospects in Canada are pretty strong as well. Tourism and hospitality have been growth industries for several years, according to most experts. According to the Canadian Tourism Commission in Ottawa, total tourism spending has increased in each of the past five years, reaching a record $44 billion in 1997. The trend is expected to continue in the foreseeable future. Wendy Swedlove, president of the national coordinating office of the Canadian Tourism Human Resource Council in Ottawa, says that 1.3 million people—approximately 10 per cent of the country’s labor force— work in tourism-related businesses such as travel agencies, hotels, resorts and restaurants. Employment is growing at a rate of 2.5 per

cent annually, compared with 1.6 per cent for the entire work force, says Swedlove. “There are a lot of entry-level positions that people call Mcjobs,” she says. “If people want to stay in the industry, we encourage them to get some post-secondary education because there are entrepreneurial, management and professional opportunities across the sector.”

As the travel business undergoes major changes, new jobs are emerging. Canada is becoming a popular winter destination, and more people are travelling in the so-called shoulder seasons—spring and fall. As well, new fields are developing, such as ecotourism. Several colleges have responded by offering diploma studies specializing in this type of travel. “It can’t help but grow,” says Allen MacPherson, coordinator of the ecotourism management program at the Haliburton, Ont. campus of Sir Sandford Fleming College. “More people are retiring early. They’re looking to keep fit and continue learning. They don’t want to sit at home doing nothing.”

That type of client frequently seeks out Sonia Jaafar, a travel consultant at Worldwide Adventures in Toronto, to book a hiking holiday in Nepal or a cycling trip in Vietnam. The 25-year-old Jaafar, who was born in Canada but spent her childhood in England and Malaysia, earned a travel counsellor diploma at Ottawa’s Algonquin College, and then enrolled in Sir Sandford’s ecotourism program. She has participated in one of her employer’s Peruvian junkets and is slated to visit Nepal next spring. “My love of the outdoors attracted me to the field,” says Jaafar. “And it’s exciting for our clients—I’m usually booking a trip of a lifetime for them.”

D’ARCY JENISH

HEALTHCARE

Mandy Kohli studies the hazy black-and-white image pulsating on her small computer screen. She is looking for trouble spots on a patient’s heart: dark areas that indicate lack of blood due to a blocked artery —and possibly a bypass operation to correct the problem. Kohli, 23, is a nuclear medicine technologist working in a Toronto clinic. On a typical day, she sees up to 16 patients, who have been referred by physicians and may be suffering from cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis or other ailments. Kohli gives them small injections of a radioactive solution that will accumulate in the afflicted organ or tissue, and then takes pictures with a sophisticated imaging device known as a gamma camera. She gives the images, along with her analysis, to a radiologist who makes a diagnosis, which then goes to the referring physician.

Kohli graduated in 1997 after completing a three-year course at the Michener Institute for Applied Health Sciences, a Toronto college that trains technicians to operate complex diagnostic equipment—ultrasound machines and magnetic resonance imaging units, among others. With only 600 full-time students, Michener’s enrolment is small, but president Renate Krakauer notes that 90 per cent of graduates find related employment within six months of graduation. And she believes the demand for Michener’s highly trained technicians will only increase as the baby boomers begin

to retire. In fact, Statistics Canada estimates that the number of Canadians over 65 will increase by about one million, to almost five million by the year 2010. “Yuppies and baby boomers,” says Krakauer, “are getting to the age where they need these kinds of diagnostic procedures."

At the other end of the medical spectrum, natural healing practitioners are anticipating a similar boost from a health-conscious population. “Baby boomers want to stay healthy,” says CheryAnn Hoffmeyer, co-ordinator of the holistic health practitioner program at Grant MacEwan Community College in Edmonton. “Alternative health meets those needs by promoting long-term health and well-being.”

Those pursuing holistic programs should be forewarned: the best opportunities often mean starting your own business, and having an entrepreneurial streak is an asset. Sandra Macdonald, a massage therapist who graduated from Grant MacEwan in 1997, worked briefly for an established clinic, but has developed a flourishing practice in her Edmonton home. Her clients include people with cancer and multiple sclerosis, who want relief from pain or stress, car accident victims suffering from whiplash and healthy individuals who simply enjoy a massage. “It can be a tad lean at first,” warns Macdonald. “But you have to pound the pavement and market yourself.”

D. J.

FINANCIAL PLANNING

Business cycles are big, mysterious phenomena that can create jobs and wealth in one profession, while triggering layoffs and financial pain in another. The current turmoil in international markets has been hard on the financial services industry, spooking investors and leading to layoffs at brokerage houses. Yet most observers believe that the long-term prospects remain sound. “Ultimately, it’s a huge growth industry,” says Rudi Carter, a Toronto-based financial planner with FCG Securities. “You've got the whole demographic shift, the aging of the population, which increases the need for wealth management.

And people have made a dramatic shift out of guaranteed income certificates and into more sophisticated investments, namely mutual funds and stocks. They require advice.”

But getting started in financial services can be difficult. Alnoor Nathoo, now 35, worked for 15 years in convenience stores and real estate ventures owned by his family before enrolling in a two-year business finance and investment management program at Vancouver’s Langara College in 1995. While attending college, he took the Canadian Securities Course, a prerequisite for becoming a licensed broker in most provinces. After graduating, Nathoo landed a job with one Vancouver brokerage house and quickly jumped to another. During his first year, he earned only $25,000 in commissions, but anticipates a more lucrative income as he establishes himself. “After 10 years in the business, a broker should be able to make at least a couple hundred thousand dollars annually," says Nathoo. “That’s what I’m shooting for.”

Carter says that competition for sales positions within the industry is so stiff that many people start in entry-level support or administrative positions before getting an opportunity to advise clients. His own business is a case in point: when he placed an ad for an assistant recently, approximately 150 applicants responded—and most had the licences necessary to trade securities. “It’s a good career for young people, but they need to get in somewhere,” says Carter. “It’s a business of trust and knowledge.”

D. J.