A key differentiating factor is the marked difference in the proportion of graduates from professional programs who become licensed members and practise in their respective profession. A large proportion of graduates from education, health and law programs pursue licensure, although many law and education graduates work in unrelated occupations. The rates of engineering and architecture graduates obtaining professional licences are significantly lower. In fact, there are as many engineering graduates employed in other occupations that normally require a university degree as there are employed in the engineering profession.
The labour market for professional degree graduates in fields with a narrow range of employment opportunities related to the field of study, as is the case in health and education, are tightly linked to the ratio of available graduates in professional programs to the number of employment opportunities in the profession. In the case of both health and education, government has significant influence over both the supply (number of funded seats in professional programs) and the demand (employment in the profession).
Attempts to manage these labour markets have tended to result in swings between under-supply of new entrants and over-supply without ever achieving a sustainable balance. Lengthy periods of training and long lags in supply responses result in over-reactions to short-term labour market conditions. In the case of teachers, Ontario has produced an estimated 26,000 more qualified teachers than available teaching jobs in the province since 2006. This trend may reverse in the coming decade.
The labour market for graduates from law, engineering and architecture programs is influenced much more by employment demands in the general economy and more broadly related fields. An imbalance between graduation rates and job openings leads to significant employment in fields unrelated to graduates’ university training and also to significant under-employment. This trend is expected to accelerate with continued growth in enrolment in these professional degree programs and increased labour market diversification. A significant increase in law school enrolments in recent years is anticipated to result in 1.6 new licensed lawyers for every new practicing position available over the coming decade.
Although long-term employment projections should always be interpreted as scenarios based on assumptions about growth as well as changes in technology, policy and the regulatory environment,they do serve as a useful baseline for labour market planning. Long-term demographic trends gleaned from labour force statistics and administrative data of professional regulatory bodies show consistent and distinct patterns in retirements and voluntary exits across many regulated professions. Consistent monitoring of these demand-side factors provides a useful tool for tracking short- and medium-term hiring requirements.
The supply side of the equation is determined in large part by changes in enrolment patterns. Enrolments are influenced by swings in attitudes and expectations of prospective students and available program spaces. The latter can be expanded with increased funding, or reduced, although usually with greater resistance. Attitudes and expectations, on the other hand, are deeply rooted and when shifts occur they tend to occur slowly, but markedly; presenting perhaps the biggest challenge to the effective management of labour markets.