Education and aging while feeding the Siamese twin from hell


The province of New Brunswick spends $1.2 billion a year on public education. That’s a lot of scratch. There are about 98,000 students in the system, which adds up to a little over $12,000 per student. What interests me is, where are these students going to go after graduation?

Let’s do the math. There are 66,600 New Brunswickers aged 55 or older in the workforce, the majority of whom are likely to be retiring within a decade. These older workers are marching to retirement parallel to high school students graduating in the same 10- to 12-year timeframe. Which means there will be about 30,000 more graduates than available jobs—if the New Brunswick economy continues to flatline.

Fortunately, more than a quarter of these high school graduates will go on to university in the province. Unfortunately, a majority of these university graduates will leave New Brunswick, citing lack of opportunities in their profession.

Our daughter is one of these. She just graduated with a Bachelor of Education in June. Rather than signing up for casual supply teaching and joining the long lineup of people waiting for a teaching position here she’s taken a job in BC. Of course if a job comes open, she’d come back. But in the meantime one more young person has left the province—which they do at a rate of 15 to 20 a day.

Looking at it another way, New Brunswick—and the other Maritime provinces—are spending a great deal of money to educate children who will be leaving the province. For example, of the 98,000 students, 85,000 take school buses supplied gratis by the government. Government spending includes subsidies to families to encourage them to send their kids to New Brunswick colleges and universities. But by doing so, college- and university-educated students are less likely to stay in the province after graduation. Their new education trains them to look for better opportunities elsewhere.

A much worse alternative would be killing these incentives in order to fill an abundance of low pay, low skills jobs in New Brunswick, and a shortage of unskilled workers. But do we really want to dumb down our students to fill minimum wage jobs?

The other demographic bookend is the seniors’ population. About 16 percent of New Brunswickers—123,630 of us—are over 65. And that age demographic is growing faster here than in the rest of Canada. There are already 4 seniors for every 3 children under the age of 15 in the province, and that gap will continue to grow for at least the next 25 years. The question becomes, with more young people leaving the province and a growing proportion of New Brunswickers above retirement age, how are we going to support our economy? The government answer, as always, is immigration.

That isn’t the best answer. Let’s recap what we know. We graduate more students than the our retirement rate can accommodate. So a lot young people are leaving. We do a good job educating our students relative to the rest of Canada, and we have a high enrolment rate in colleges and universities. So we’re also exporting our best young minds. Meanwhile, our government claims to be investing in an innovation economy that depends on brainpower. And because our inexperienced young people are leaving, we’re importing experienced, highly qualified older people from elsewhere.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that New Brunswick companies are not taking the time to hire and train New Brunswick students. They’d rather cherry-pick the Canadian and American job markets, or import cheaper talent from overseas to fill new positions. It’s less risk and less hassle. At least in the short term.

And it’s short term corporate opportunism that’s been killing our province long term. It’s a lot like planting monocultural forests and spraying them with glyphosate to keep down competing ‘weed’ species like maples and oaks, while poisoning the environment. We’ve hardwired unsustainability into both our ecosystem and economic systems. With predictable results.

This, of course, is nothing new here. The great pine forests and great fisheries were wiped out the same way. It’s now a part of our business DNA, and it’s the same DNA running through our government. What we’ve created is a two-headed Siamese twin from hell.

The good thing, I suppose, is when our kids leave school and actually manage to get a job here, they won’t have to choose between public sector and private sector. They’ll just be entering a single, predictable and non-apologetic corporate sector.

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