Thousands of students graduate from Canadian post-secondary institutions each year with an undergraduate degree in the social sciences or humanities (SSH). While most go on to a wide range of rewarding careers, many face challenging career transitions as they struggle to define their career paths and expectations and establish themselves in the labour market. These transition-related challenges have led some to argue that SSH graduates lack the skills needed to be successful in the labour market and too often end up in low-paying, low-skilled jobs. They argue that post-secondary education (PSE) programs should focus on developing the applied skills required for specific careers.
In reality, SSH students acquire a wide range of valuable skills — from critical thinking and written and oral communication to cross-cultural understanding and creativity — and eventually go on to rewarding careers. Many suggest that non-applied skills will become even more valuable in the future when an increasing number of jobs or tasks are automated. But the increasingly in-demand SSH skills cannot be easily replicated by computers. SSH graduates require more support and training to help them articulate and market the value of the skills they have learned to employers, as well as increase their awareness of potential career paths. By ensuring SSH students have access to comprehensive career development programming and experiential learning opportunities tailored to their disciplines, PSE institutions and SSH faculties and departments can help ensure the continued vitality of these disciplines and create greater understanding of the valuable social, cultural, and economic contributions of SSH graduates.
• An undergraduate degree is no longer a guarantee of meaningful employment, and a larger number of SSH undergraduate degree holders are competing for “good” jobs compared to previous generations.
• Many recent SSH graduates have a limited understanding of potential career paths; difficulty translating the skills developed through their studies into language that appeals to employers; and limited work experience.
• In the long term, most individuals with an undergraduate degree in the social sciences or humanities (SSH) go on to a wide range of rewarding careers. However, in the short term, many recent graduates face challenging career transitions.
• Recent SSH graduates may face challenging career transitions due to difficulty articulating the value of the skills developed in their ssH program to employers, insufficient understanding of possible career paths, and limited work experience.
• Some post-secondary institutions have implemented initiatives to ease career transitions for SSH undergraduate degree holders. the most effective initiatives combine experiential learning with the development of career management skills.
In the years immediately following graduation, SSH undergraduate degree holders earn less, are less likely to be employed in a job directly related to their degree, and are more likely to be overqualified for their current position compared with undergraduate degree holders as a whole. Three years after graduation, SSH graduates are somewhat more likely than university graduates as a whole to be employed in part-time work. Meanwhile, only 74 per cent of humanities graduates found full-time work three years after graduation compared to 84 per cent of graduates across all fields of study.
However, the employment outcomes of SSH graduates improve over time. While SSH graduates earn less than graduates with degrees in computer science, math, engineering, and business, their earnings were more stable, growing at smaller but more consistent rates, eventually narrowing the earnings gap with their STEM counterparts. Most SSH degree holders also report being generally satisfied with both their career and program of study. Furthermore, while the career outcomes of SSH graduates lag those of STEM graduates, they earn more than individuals with a college diploma and have more stable careers.
Lack of work experience, limited awareness of career paths, and employer misperceptions about the skills of SSH graduates are making it difficult for SSH graduates to make efficient transitions to the workforce. The report urges the PSE and skills sectors to direct more resources towards addressing the career transition challenges facing SSH graduates.
Governments, post-secondary institutions, faculty, career services staff, employers, and students can support initiatives that help SSH students explore career paths, navigate the labour market, and apply their skills. The report provides eight recommendations to help ease career transitions of SSH degree holders:
- Collect and distribute information on the career pathways and transitions of SSH graduates.
- Communicate to students the skills developed in SSH programs.
- Encourage students to think about career paths and skills development at the beginning of their degree program.
Increase opportunities for participation in experiential learning.
- Offer career development programs tailored to SSH students.
- Strengthen links between SSH students and alumni.
- Increase employer awareness of the valuable skills taught in SSH programs.
- Evaluate and share information on career development initiatives.
Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story at Getting to Work: Career Skills Development for Social Sciences and Humanities Graduates