I have a friend from out west who is studying dentistry at Dalhousie University. When I ask him if he is thinking of setting up his practice here in Nova Scotia after graduation, he smiles and quickly says no. “Being a dentist, my family and I will have opportunities pretty much anywhere we want to go.”
I have another friend, a recent graduate from Dalhousie’s Rowe School of Business, who chose to move back home to Jordan to start her child-care business rather than settle down here in Nova Scotia. “There are just more opportunities for me in my home country,” she says.
What is with Nova Scotia? You would think it would be a hotbed of career opportunities for its post-secondary graduates. With a stated goal to be a greater economic force in the new global economy and with 10 universities and a 13-campus community college system within its borders—attracting more students from out of province and abroad to study here than anywhere else in the country—why isn’t Nova Scotia in the proverbial catbird seat? After all aren’t ambitious and highly educated young people the lifeblood of progress?
Yet all too often the unenviable choice for Nova Scotia graduates isn’t so much “Should I stay or should I go?” as it is “How fast can I get out of here so I can start my career?”
According to Richard Ivany, president of Acadia University as well as the Chair for the Nova Scotia Commission on Building Our New Economy that recently released its long awaited economic report, too many university graduates are unable to find adequate post-graduate employment in Nova Scotia and are moving on to utilize their highly refined, cutting edge skills either in other provinces or abroad.
“Every year Nova Scotia universities graduate about 5,200 students from Nova Scotia, 3,300 students from the rest of Canada, and another 1,400 international students,” says Ivany in a phone interview. “All these people make personal choices as to whether they will stay here or go elsewhere. Ultimately, the only reason to stay in Nova Scotia is if there are economic opportunities.”
Unfortunately, for most students, the career opportunities here are limited. “A significant number of our students would stay if the opportunity existed,” says Ivany. “The problem is that Nova Scotia still holds on to a lot of entry-level job positions that require a considerable amount of previous professional experience. These students come out of university with fresh degrees, they are smart and ambitious, yet they lack this previous working experience and are unable to land these jobs. So, though they would prefer to stay, they wind up moving somewhere else where the job requirements are not so stringent.”
Even those graduates who do stay in Nova Scotia many wind up being underemployed. Among its 258 pages, the Ivany Report says “many university graduates are not working in the field for which they were educated. In fact one in five are reported to work in areas not requiring a university degree and to earn less than $18,000/year and many more are acknowledged to carry heavy debt from student loans.”
According to Ivany, one simple method of alleviating the problem would be for employers to either eliminate or significantly reduce previous professional experience requirement for fresh university graduates. Unfortunately, as is often the case, employers are reluctant to make changes and, set in their ways, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
Ivany, however, does see a bright side. “We are dealing with this problem from a position of strength,” he says. “We’ve got the top part of the funnel figured out. We already have the educated, ambitious, talented young people living here. They are attending our universities and colleges. Now we just need to figure out the bottom part of the funnel which is how to keep them here after they graduate.”
True, but this is a problem that isn’t going away by itself any time soon and like the Steve Miller Band said all those years ago, “time keeps on ticking, ticking, ticking into the future.” Claims for the future global economy are being staked all over and if Nova Scotia wants to get its economic foot in the door, solving this problem should be on everybody’s front burner.