Overeducated and underpaid? How to address mal-employment

posted on September 7, 2016

By Marie Bountrogianni, Globe and Mail |

By Marie Bountrogianni, Globe and Mail |

This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at

Canada tops Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries when it comes to higher education. More than half of our citizens (53 per cent) have a tertiary qualification, compared to the OECD average of 32 per cent.

However, many Canadians with post-secondary degrees are working in jobs that do not take advantage of their abilities and do not require a post-secondary education. This is what we call “mal-employment,” and it’s hitting two groups especially hard: immigrants and young people.

New to Canada, new to the workforce

About four in 10 immigrants to Canada have university degrees, compared to fewer than two in 10 of those born in Canada. Yet when Statistics Canada looked at immigrants trained for regulated professions, such as engineering, medicine, nursing and teaching, it found that just 24 per cent of foreign-educated immigrants were working in their field. That compares to 62 per cent of similarly trained professionals born in Canada. Not surprisingly, the early years here are the hardest. One study found that four years after arriving in Canada, 70 per cent of men and 65 per cent of women held jobs that didn’t require their level of education.

Much has been written about the employment and consequent financial struggles of Canada’s young people. More than four in 10 Canadians in their 20s (42 per cent) live with their parents. The 2015 Office of the Parliamentary Budget Report estimated that 40 per cent of Canadian university graduates aged 25 to 34 were overqualified for their jobs.

Mal-employment frustrates employees and can lead to lower productivity and costly turnover for employers. There’s also a significant and ongoing cost to our economy. Immigrant mal-employment alone costs an estimated $20 billion in foregone earnings and is a significant contributor to the gap in productivity between Canada and the United States.

We don’t have to accept the status quo. There are solutions to mal-employment – and both employers and employees have a role to play in implementing them.

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