As someone with B.A. I’ve written about the benefits of getting a liberal arts degree, and the challenges it presents for people who see a B.A. as a direct route to employment. In the final chapter of our new book: More Money for Beer and Textbooks – A Financial Guide for Today’s Canadian Student, we take a research-driven look at what exactly the labour market in Canada is telling us it needs. This is a completely separate conversation from the “worth” of a liberal arts degree. The idea of placing a “worth” on education leads into all kinds of vague debates about value to society, and becoming a well-rounded citizen, blah, blah, blah. It is impossible to quantify the overall “worth” of a learning experience because learning for the sake of learning is a great thing, but it is possible to quantify what your job potential and earning potential will be as a result of the educational path you pursue.
Outside-the- Box Thinking for An Inside-the-Box World
As a high school teacher who is trusted (for better or for worse) with providing teenagers with information related to post-secondary education so that they might make an educated decision as to the best fit for them, I try to stay up-to-date on trends and opportunities in Canada. Within that role I’ve recently began thinking about how ironic it is that universities are supposed to teach you to think critically and “outside the box” (amongst other things), yet going to university to take a basic liberal arts degree has become about as “inside the box” as you can get. My students know that if they say they are going to university everyone will accept that answer and laud them for it. They will be encouraged, helped and pointed out as an example of someone who has it all figured out. It has become the path of least resistance in many ways. Again, I’m not saying a liberal arts degree is a bad thing, I’m just saying that going to university to take sociology 101, psychology 101, and literature 101 because you don’t really want to leave high school isn’t always a good choice. To my way of thinking, taking a hard look at your interests, strengths, and the job market in Canada – then coming up with some possible careers out there that allow those things to align to some degree (after doing a little research) – THEN looking at what educational path could get you to that career – is a far better strategy than simply taking the path of least resistance. It is also what will likely lead you to a great career opportunity that is slightly outside of the box most Canadian students are currently finding themselves trapped in.
A 100% Employment Rate?! Must Be a Typo…
One great example of applying this educational strategy is becoming a railway conductor. Where did that idea come from you might ask? Well the other day I walked into my staff room and picked up a little piece of information put out by Red River College here in Manitoba. Basically, it had polled all of its former students and documented post-graduate information about them such as if they had any employment at all, if their employment was related to their field of study, and what their average pay was. It then broke down the feedback into fairly precise categories. I thought this information was perfect for students in high school today. It gives them a great snapshot of the current market, especially in certain programs that they made not have thought of before.
One program that Red River offers that really caught my eye was their railway conductor program. It literally had a 100% employment rate and a fairly large sample size had reported back. When I did a little research on the topic it looks as if the industry in general is in dire need of workers and is willing to pay top dollar for in-demand employees. The pay rates are great, benefits are good, and the schooling takes roughly as long as one semester of university. It seems too good to be true, but it actually isn’t.
What You Need To Enter The Field
While it seems like several people had got railway conductor jobs without taking courses, the programs that kept coming up (in addition to Red River College) were those offered by George Brown and SAIT. These programs were put together with help from Canada’s railway personnel (what a novel idea, asking the workforce what education is most needed, and then developing a partnership with them to produce the best program possible… are you listening universities or are you still going to be on tracks when the train comes through?). The basic outline is similar for all of the programs in that it is a relatively short course of 15-17 weeks. The conductors-to-be work at various jobs within a rail yard and learn the ropes first-hand. Students learn regulations, safety protocols, record-keeping practices, and everything else they will need to jump into the job.
Pros and Cons
The promotional stuff for the programs is careful to point out that being a railway conductor isn’t all flowers and sunshine. People who take the job need to be willing to work long hours with quick turnaround times. They also need to be mobile and flexible in terms of living accommodations. That being said, if you’re a young person looking to get your foot into the employment door and earn some series cash (first-hand accounts varied between $70,000-$100,000 annually), then this looks like a great opportunity to me. If you pursue the job, there appears to be not only a virtual guarantee of finding employment, but plenty of opportunity for advancement as well. While I could see the hours and lifestyle scaring off a few people, if you’re 18-20 years old in Canada today and aren’t sure what to do, being a railway conductor would not only allow you to get a huge financial jumpstart on life, it would also put some great material on your resume if you determined you were ultimately looking for something a little more stable and predictable further down the line. Also, with all of the resource extraction and infrastructure needs across Canada, I’m pretty sure railways aren’t going to go out of style anytime soon.
What would stop you from jumping at numbers like this? I highly doubt being a railway conductor is an easy job (physically or mentally), but it can’t be a whole lot more taxing than many jobs in the oilfield that hard-working Canadians have been flocking to for years right?
(Image provided by Flickr)