OPINION: Internships as a means of retaining post-graduates in the London labour force

Ideally, a city home to a large post-secondary educational institution should be developing talent that can contribute to the local economy soon after graduation. In London however, this is not necessarily true despite having two large and respected institutions in the University of Western Ontario and Fanshawe College. According to The Insiders Guide to the Colleges (2014), 86% of Western graduates depart London following graduation. Numbers for Fanshawe are not as easily accessible.

Photography by Arthur Gonzales 04Undoubtedly some of this reflects students heading back to their respective homes, but the fact that London cannot retain such a high number of university graduates is disconcerting and begs the question of why this apparent post-graduation exodus is occurring.Is the London job market conducive to present post-secondary graduates? Currently, the economic make-up of the city is driven largely by the manufacturing, trade, education, and health care industries (LEDC, 2015), though a recent downturn has occurred in the region’s manufacturing sector, while most of the recent increases in jobs has been related to administration and clerical positions (Worktrends, 2015a and b). That means many graduates from programs not related to these fields need to look elsewhere to find meaningful employment.

A separate survey shows that in 2014, about one-third of all new hires for full-time, permanent jobs in the EMO (Elgin-Middlesex-Oxford region) were taken up by professional positions such as engineers and accountants, which do not appear to form a substantial portion of the region’s present economic make-up (EMOWPDB, 2015). New positions in the manufacturing sector tend to be temporary, perhaps reflecting the present instability in this sector with jobs being moved and plants shutting down.

At first glance it seems like getting a permanent full-time job in one’s field in London post-graduation is, at best, not easy, and at worst, impossible, depending upon the nature of one’s post-secondary education. Those adamant on staying within the city have a long, uphill battle ahead of them or may alternatively seek out employment unrelated to their fields. However, this latter option may prove fruitless as the two most cited reasons for jobs being unfilled in the EMO are that applicants are not qualified and do not possess the requisite work experience (EMOWPDB, 2015).

So it seems like the average post-graduate in London is faced with two problems: 1) there are few to no available jobs in their field, and 2) they’re unqualified, or even overqualified, for other jobs.

The next question that needs to be asked is how to rectify this situation so that we can retain our locally educated university and college graduates?

Perhaps the most obvious solution would be to introduce students to local employers through internships or co-ops as part of their post-secondary programs. Many programs at Western and Fanshawe already have internships in place, though they are not always well advertised leaving many students unaware of them and unable to take advantage of these initiatives. By having firm, visible, internship programs in place with local employers across a broad range of fields, it accomplishes several things.

Firstly, it gives students practical work experience, allowing them to apply their knowledge to real-world and local problems.

Secondly, it develops a local network between the post-secondary talent base and the employers. The importance of this cannot be overstated as it allows students to develop and broaden personal networks within their field, which was the primary means local employers recruited new employees last year (EMOWPDB, 2015).

Lastly, it encourages recent graduates to take employment and settle within London by taking advantage of newly developed networks instead of seeking employment in unfamiliar markets provincially, nationally, or internationally.

For this to work, there needs to be a concerted effort by both local employers and post-secondary institutions to ensure these networks can be established and maintained. There’s an annually renewed supply of young, educated graduates looking for meaningful employment and not pursuing this local resource is a disservice to the city.

References

[1] Elgin, Middlesex, and Oxford Workforce Planning and Development Board (EMOWPDB), 2015. http://worktrends.ca/sites/default/files/documents/EmployerOne_Summary_Results_2015.pdf

[2] London Economic Development Corporation (LEDC), 2015. http://www.ledc.com/resources

[3] Worktrends (2015a). http://www.worktrends.ca/sites/default/files/u82/Top%205%20growing_declining%20industries%20in%20LER%202013_2014.pdf

[4] Worktrends (2015b). http://www.worktrends.ca/sites/default/files/u82/Top%205%20growing_declining%20occ%20in%20LER%202013_2014.pdf

[5] The Insiders Guide to the Colleges (2014). Ed: Yale Daily News. St Martins Press: New York.

James Thayer
James Thayer
James Thayer is a Senior Research Fellow for the London Institute. He is a graduate of the universities of Western Ontario and Toronto where he received, respectively, his Honours Bachelor of Science in Geography and Geology and his Master of Science in Geography, specializing in fluvial and Quaternary geomorphology. He can be reached at james@londoninstitute.ca.
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  • Lauren
    Reply

    Hi James, thanks for this article. I run the Science Internship Program at Western and I would love to get more employers and students involved. We do a lot of promotion but we always meet students and employers who say they didn’t know. Do you have any suggestions for effective promotional techniques? Perhaps you could write an article about the specific programs that are available?

    • James
      Reply

      Hi Lauren – thanks for the comment! It’s definitely something I could look into and write a follow-up article on.

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