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Study: Skill requirements of jobs of postsecondary graduates

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Released: 2017-01-24

Jobs held by graduates of architecture and engineering programs in 2011 required the highest skill levels among male and female bachelor's degree holders from the various disciplines. A new study also found that jobs held by graduates of education, visual and performing arts, and humanities programs generally required lower level skills than other bachelor's degree graduates.

While many previous studies have examined the earnings of graduates from different academic programs, students may consider other factors when choosing a program, such as the skills required in actual jobs obtained by program graduates. Although bachelor's degree graduates from programs such as architecture and engineering often held jobs that were very closely related to their studies, this was not always the case among other graduates. To date, information on the specific skills required in the jobs held by Canadian postsecondary graduates has not been available.

To address this data gap, a new study used the 2011 National Household Survey to examine full-time paid jobs in the Census reference week held by 25 to 34 year-old men and women whose highest level of postsecondary study was completed in Canada. The occupations in which individuals worked were assigned skill levels based on the US Occupational Information Network Database, which is a survey of job incumbents and job analysts.

The survey breaks down skill levels from 0 (not important) to 7 (the highest level). In total, 35 occupational skill requirements were examined, such as reading comprehension, writing, mathematics, complex problem-solving, troubleshooting and time management.

Graduates from 11 broad academic programs were then ranked according to the level of occupational skill requirements in the jobs that they held. Importantly, the study did not look at the skills possessed by graduates, but rather at the skills required in the jobs that they held.

Male architecture and engineering bachelor's degree graduates in Canada ranked first among the 11 programs, with the highest skills required for their job in 26 of the 35 skill categories. Their female counterparts ranked first in 23 of the 35 skills. Graduates from this discipline held jobs requiring not only the highest levels of mathematics, science, and technological skills, but also the highest reading comprehension, writing, and resource management skills. The only area where they did not place near the top was in social skills, where they were near the average.

Mathematics, computer and information sciences graduates in Canada also tended to hold high-skilled jobs. Male bachelor's degree graduates were among the top three programs in 17 of the 35 skill areas. Their female counterparts were among the top three programs in 16 of the 35 skills. Once again, these graduates held jobs generally requiring above-average reading comprehension and writing skills. Male bachelor's degree graduates in business, management, and public administration, as well as female bachelor's degree graduates in health and related fields, also held jobs requiring a wide-range of diverse, high-level skills.

In contrast, bachelor's degree graduates from education, visual and performing arts, and humanities almost always ranked near the bottom with regards to the level of skills required in their jobs. This was the case with respect to reading comprehension, writing and resource management skills, among others.

The study also looked at the skill content of jobs held by college graduates. While skill requirements were almost always higher among bachelor's degree holders than among college graduates from the same discipline, the relative ranking of disciplines tended to differ at each level.

In general, the study suggests that men and women with higher levels of educational attainment generally held jobs requiring higher skill levels than high school graduates. This was the case even for bachelor's degree graduates from education, visual and performing arts, and humanities.

However, skill requirements did not always rise with educational attainment. For example, technical operation and maintenance skill requirements were higher among men with no university degree than men with a university degree. Also, doctoral graduates held jobs that required lower resource management skills than other university graduates.


The research paper Do Postsecondary Graduates Land High-skilled Jobs?, which is part of the Analytical Studies Branch Research Paper Series (Catalogue number11F0019M), is now available.

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To enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Kristyn Frank (613-864-0694;, or Marc Frenette (613-864-0762;, Social Analysis and Modelling Division.

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