Tyler Buckingham has yearned to be a teacher for years.
"I wanted to go to teachers' college because of how affected I was by a lot of the good teachers in my high school," he says. Buckingham did well in school, graduating with an honours degree in history and English and went straight to teachers’ college at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) in Toronto. Despite graduating more than four years ago and receiving a certificate to teach special education, he has yet to crack into the profession.
Buckingham says that while he was in teachers college in 2008-2009 other students said that it was “turning into a buyer’s market ... and that it would be tough to get anything full-time after I graduated."
His professors had similar comments, but reassured him that the long-term forecast was for a lot of older teachers to retire. Buckingham liked his chances. "I didn't really make too many trips to the guidance office once I was in university," he admits. "I figured my trajectory was pretty set at that point."
He now does administrative work for a Toronto-area hospital, a job he ended up getting because it's where he worked during the summer to put himself through university.
Buckingham's story is all too common.
More than a decade ago, the Ontario government -- influenced by a 1998 study by the Ontario College of Teachers published in the journal Professionally Speaking -- began increasing the number of spaces available. The report predicted a large number of retirees and warned of a shortage of teachers in the future. There was a shortage from 1998-2002, but in 2005 the College declared the shortage over.
There are now 9,000 new teachers graduating each year in Ontario alone and another 3,000 arriving from the U.S. and abroad hoping to find work in the province. However, the current need is for no more than 5,000 new teachers a year, a number that isn’t anticipated to change for the next decade at least says Andrew Langille, a labour lawyer and founder of Youthandwork.ca, a site dedicated to helping young people succeed in Canada's economy. He goes on to provide the dire fact: There are enough unemployed teachers in Ontario that the province could not graduate another teacher in the next 10 years and still have enough.
To address the surplus, the government is reducing the number of spots in teachers’ college to 4,500 starting in 2015 and doubling the length of the program from one year to two.
"It’s too little too late," warns Langille. "The government has known about this problem for years yet chose to ignore it. There are a number of people who are unemployed or underemployed because they have teaching degrees that are useless in this economy."
The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities says they’re not to blame, but are working to fix the problem. "The lower number of teacher retirements, which contributed to an oversupply of new teachers in the labour market could not have been reasonably forecasted. Unforeseen economic and labour market factors (such as the global financial crisis in 2008) led to teachers delaying their retirement," says Ministry Spokesperson Gyula Kovacs. "The government recognizes that labour market conditions change, which is why we continue to monitor these conditions."
So why do students continue to go to teachers college? "Everyone thinks they are going to be the exception to the rule and land that job," says Langille. "I'm not going to say people out of teachers college don't find work, but it's very difficult."
Skills gap adds to the problem
While teaching - in Ontario particularly - is the most glaring example, a skills mismatch exists throughout the economy.
In a recent report, the Conference Board of Canada found the skills gap in Ontario alone cost the province $24 billion in lost economic activity and another $4.1 billion is lost due to underemployment. The federal government proposed the Canada Job Grant in its 2013 Budget, which is supposed to partner employers and workers. But the premiers unanimously rejected the program in July at the latest premiers meeting in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.
Langille also points to the professions of law, registered dieticians and journalism where there are a large number of graduates without jobs in their field.
University of Ottawa Law Professor Bruce Feldthusen disagrees on the law front. He says there isn't a shortage of law jobs, there is a shortage of articling positions. Even still, there is an 85-per-cent chance of getting an articling position right after graduating from law school, according to Law Society of Upper Canada’s articling task force chairman Tim Conway. He made the announcement during convocation proceedings on April 26, 2012.
Feldthusen says if anything there are too few lawyers and there are a lot of people who may want legal services but can't afford them.
"What would you do with a supply problem if no one could buy eggs? Well, you have more chickens, not fewer. The reason legal services are so expensive is because it isn't as competitive as it could be," he says.
Feldthusen is in favour of a plan the Law Society of Upper Canada is going to try that involves an alternate path to becoming a member of the bar without articling.
The chances of getting a job right after articling are 68.6 per cent and Feldthusen says that is very good compared to other professions. "If you were a parent, what track do you think would be better than law?"
Langille believes there are a lot of benefits to higher education, but says, "I think most students are going to university or college to get a job."
That means students require a better understanding of what jobs are in demand in the market before picking programs.
The message from everyone we spoke with is that the solution to the skills gap is for students, the government and schools to all pay more attention to the realities of the labour market.
As for Buckingham, he says the last few years have been really discouraging. When asked if he regrets going to teachers' college, Buckingham doesn't hesitate to answer: "Yup."
"If I could go back and do it all over again I wouldn't take the same undergraduate program," he says. "The advice I tell anyone ... is education is great, but you have to have a job in mind that is realistic for you to get."
But Buckingham's story is not all doom and gloom. He says it’s unfortunate that he isn't teaching, but his hospital job is one he enjoys.
"I've just moved along another career path," he says. "At this point it would have to be a really good (teaching) offer for me to give it (my current job) up."