Since the myth of widespread skills and labour shortages has been thoroughly debunked, does that mean we have skills surpluses with Canadian workers overqualified for their jobs or for the work available? Many no doubt feel so, especially those with university degrees who are unemployed or working in retail or manual jobs. 

Overqualification is particularly high among immigrants and especially immigrant women with university degrees from outside of Canada or the U.S. This problem suggests systemic barriers—such as lack of recognition of foreign credentials, lack of connections or racism—remain as much a problem as “overqualification.”

Overall, overqualification rates for recent university graduates have changed little in the past two decades. About 18 per cent of university graduates aged 25-34 work in jobs requiring just a high school education, and 40 per cent work in jobs requiring a college-level education or less.

During this period, overqualification rates for those with a college diploma or trades certificate declined significantly, but still over 30 per cent of those young workers had jobs requiring a high school education or less. 

Overqualification rates decline with age and experience in the workforce, but still average close to 20 per cent. 

Does this mean higher education doesn’t pay off? Not at all. With rising tuition fees and the resource and construction boom, the returns to education have declined, but college and university graduates still earn considerably more over their lifetime than those with a high school education.

University and college graduates also have lower rates of unemployment, and can enjoy greater flexibility as the economy changes. Those with higher education also live on average about five years longer, thanks to better socio-economic conditions and safer jobs. And the value of that? Priceless.