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The Edmonton Journal
Thursday, August 20, 1998

'Dumb jobs' surplus hurting economy; 2.5M overqualified workers -- survey

McJOBS
By Jen Ross
"It indicates that there are not enough highly skilled jobs in Canada, which is a problem for our economy."

-- researcher Graham Lowe.

Lowe said the findings are significant because for years, policy makers have worried about a literacy deficit, while there is actually more of a problem with a literacy surplus.
The largest job growth hasn't been in the higher-end jobs, it's been in tourism, retail and food and beverage industries.

If you feel you're overqualified for your job, you're not alone.

A Statistics Canada report released Wednesday shows more than 2.5 million workers have literacy skills that exceed their job demands.

"Simply put, it means there are a lot of dumb jobs out there," said researcher Graham Lowe. "It indicates that there are not enough highly skilled jobs in Canada, which is a problem for our economy."

Lowe and fellow University of Alberta sociology professor Harvey Krahn analysed data from the 1994 International Adult Literacy Survey, which tested the reading, writing and practical math skills of 5,660 employed Canadians over age 16.

They found one-quarter are a "literacy mismatch" for the kind of work they do. Their research also suggests as many as 635,000 Canadian workers, or one in 18, may not have the skills to do their jobs adequately.

Lowe said the findings are significant because for years, policy makers have worried about a literacy deficit, while there is actually more of a problem with a literacy surplus.

Krahn said the literacy mismatch contributes to a brain drain. Well-educated young Canadians snap up good jobs abroad, he said, because they get out into the workforce and can't find suitable career-related work here.

"Some people say we're just over-educating our population," said Krahn. "But they have the argument backwards. It's good that we have more people going on to pursue higher education; it's bad that we don't have the jobs to accommodate them."

The StatsCan report also reveals women of all ages and literacy levels are more likely to have jobs that don't require them to use their literacy skills. Krahn said 24 per cent of employed women have reading skills superior to what's needed for their jobs, compared to 19 per cent of men.

"This reflects the patriarchal structure of the workplace," said Mimi Williams, spokesperson for Edmonton Working Women.

"There's so clearly a gender split that you often have men with lower educational levels supervising women with higher education levels. In the computer field, you find women being the operators and men being the programmers."

Lowe suggested redesigning some jobs so people can better develop their literacy skills. While he conceded it would be difficult to "upskill" many menial labour jobs, he said that isn't the goal.

"McJobs are fine if a student is still in school and plans to move on afterwards," added Krahn. "But we are finding a lot of young university graduates still caught selling shoes or moving furniture. The largest job growth hasn't been in the higher-end jobs, it's been in tourism, retail and food and beverage industries."

He said the number of entry level jobs has been shrinking over the past decade, which helps explain why younger workers are among the most mismatched.

"I've tried looking for work in my field," said University of Alberta commerce graduate Karen Thiell. "But so far I just haven't found anything better."

The 22-year-old works in sales at Oasis, a handmade soap market in Eaton Centre. She had to read, write and do complex math equations every day in university. At work, the till does most of the calculations and the only thing she has to read is the occasional pamphlet about a new product.

The good news is most Canadians have literacy skills well matched to their jobs. The survey showed two million low-literacy workers are employed in jobs that make few demands on their abilities to read, write and do basic math. About 2.8-million highly literate Canadians have jobs that require them to use their skills frequently.

But Krahn said there still aren't enough jobs requiring basic literary skills and people who spend extended periods of time in low-skill jobs may get rusty.

"The fear is that if you don't use it, you'll lose it."

*

McJOBS

* There are 11.8 million Canadians in the workforce.

* Twenty per cent rarely or never read letters or memos on the job and 32 per cent rarely or never write them.