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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Workers better educated but not better paid

By Linda White
Special to The Sun

Today's workers may be better educated and have more experience than their counterparts in the early 1980s, but for many, that's not translating into better wages, a recent Statistics Canada study concludes.
Immigrant Employment Council

"Generally, it's fair to say there were some disappointing trends," says Rene Morissette, a senior economist at Statistics Canada and co-author of the report. "Despite a growth in education levels, wages have shown little growth. The good news is that the percentage of low-paid workers living in low-income families did not worsen."

According to the study, the proportion of jobs paying less than $10 an hour (measured in 2001 dollars) has remained fairly stable since the 1980s -- even though the education and experience of workers holding those low-wage jobs has increased.

University graduates have enjoyed moderate wage growth, whereas those with high school diplomas -- especially young men -- have seen their wages fall, Morissette says. Though he doesn't believe the study goes far enough to blame "credential inflation," some educators say higher levels of education are increasingly a prerequisite for basic employment.

"Bar has gone up"

"In the last five years, the bar has gone up tremendously," says Liesje de Burger, Manager of Continuing Education at Durham College and University of Ontario Institute of Technology in Oshawa. "You see it in the requirements listed in job postings ... If we are a knowledge economy, we need to meet that bar."

More and more, college diplomas and university degrees are a foundation. "Education is no longer terminal," de Burger says. "Post-graduate certificates build upon that foundation and can be the ticket to advancement over someone who hasn't committed to continuing education."
According to a recent Statistics Canada study, low-wage earners are stuck in a rut.
Some key findings:
  • The percentage of adult workers employed in low-paying jobs did not drop overall, even though the percentage of adult employees with a university degree increased over the 20-year period.
  • Canadian-born males aged 25 to 34 with a high school education or less saw their real wages drop substantially over the last two decades.
  • Older recent immigrant men of all education levels saw their wages drop over the last two decades.
    -- Visit Statistics Canada at to learn more about the research paper.

  • Only one demographic group saw its chances of escaping low-wage jobs improve: young women aged 25 to 29. "Young women are increasingly employed in better paying occupations, such as administration and medicine -- fields that used to be occupied primarily by men," Morissette says.

    "In general, they are more career-oriented than their counterparts were 20 years ago. They're better able to take advantage of opportunities."

    Four vulnerable groups

    Four groups have become increasingly economically vulnerable: full-time workers who receive low pay and live in low-income households, people with no high school diploma, recent immigrants, unattached people and single mothers.

    The report highlights the struggles of recent immigrant men to find better-paying work. "One explanation is that employers value less diplomas acquired in some countries," Morissette says. "Substantial foreign work experience seems valued less in today's market than before."

    That conclusion isn't surprising, says Elizabeth McIsaac, Manager of the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council. "Immigrants aren't performing in the marketplace the way we'd expect them to," she says.

    "The first barrier is the issue of not having Canadian work experience or their foreign work experience isn't given full value ... There are also challenges around language and communication skills. Regular old discrimination plays into it as well."

    The council is partnering with community agencies that serve immigrants to address those challenges.

    A Career Bridge launched nearly two years ago provides immigrants with a paid internship, allowing them to earn money while gaining their first Canadian work experience.

    The council has also launched a mentoring partnership ( that offers occupation-specific mentoring to skilled immigrants, giving them a chance to develop contacts and a better understanding of their field. "We are seeing some successes through its early stages," McIsaac says.

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