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CAUT Bulletin Archives

January 2000

Market Needs Not Being Met by Tech Focus

The increasing focus of colleges and universities on technical programs at the expense of the social sciences and humanities is not meeting the needs of the Canadian economy, a prominent economist says.

In a report released last month by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, UBC economist Dr. Robert Allen concludes that while technical training and high-tech programs are important, the growing concentration on "techism" alone is too narrow and threatens to leave students ill-prepared for employment.

"While techniks are right that the demand for technically trained workers is growing, the same is true for graduates in education, the humanities, and social sciences," argues Allen. "Resources must be directed to these fields to meet the needs of the new knowledge-based economy."

The study, which draws upon 1991 and 1996 Census data, shows that labour market demand is especially high for university graduates in the social sciences a conclusion that runs counter to prevailing popular wisdom about the importance of technical training. Pointing to the comparatively poor employment performance of those with a college diploma or trade certificate, Allen says there is good reason to question claims that specific technical skills guarantee a job.

"Education in the humanities and social sciences is meeting the needs of the Canadian economy precisely because computers and information technology have revolutionized the organization of businesses and government bureaucracies," he says. "The new-style organizations put a premium on workers who can relate to real situations, work well with others, and who can speak and write effectively -- skills developed in humanities and social science programs."

Technical training that concentrates solely on the production of new technologies and the nuts and bolts of their operation does not teach these communication and organization skills, adds Allen.

Despite the good news about job prospects for arts students, the report also points to an alarming income gap between university-educated men and women. The worst income gap is in engineering, where women with undergraduate degrees earn about $20,000 a year less than their male counterparts. Women graduates in social sciences earn about $11,500 less than men in the same field.

"Overall, it's a big mistake to believe that technical or trade courses lead to a good job with high earnings," Allen says. "The lowest unemployment rates, highest occupational status, and highest incomes are realized by university graduates in all fields."