Bypassing the university life is becoming more acceptable option for graduates
High school students all over Alberta are logging volunteer hours and gathering their portfolios, transcripts and resumes to present to recruiters from post-secondary education institutions all over the world.
Other students, however, are logging work hours, putting together resumes and searching job boards to dive headfirst into the workforce after graduation from high school.
Karlee Hebert, a 16-year-old Grade 12 student at Bishop O'Byrne High School, is among those planning the education route.
Hebert keeps busy through the school year playing ringette, curling, practicing her love of the violin, and working out at the gym. Somewhere in between all of these activities and also working part-time, Hebert strives to complete her school assignments and study to keep her grades up in her last year of high school.
Also on Hebert's list of responsibilities is planning for the next year, during which she will be transitioning into the next stage of her life: post-secondary.
"I'm scared, because it's like real life now," says Hebert. "It's not high school. You're not a kid anymore. You've got to start a life."
Hebert says she sees a lot of effort put in by high school guidance counsellors starting in Grade 10 to help students prepare for and properly transition into post-secondary life.
Helen MacKinnon, a registered psychologist and consultant for guidance counsellors in the Calgary Catholic School District, says counsellors also offer students support for finding work immediately after graduation.
MacKinnon admits that 40 per cent of high school students do not move on to post-secondary education.
However, she says the public must realize that "post-secondary" is not limited to only university and college. She says most of these students do move on to places like cosmetology schools, as well as training or apprenticeship programs at SAIT Polytechnic, all of which encourage learning without needing a university or college degree.
A different path
MacKinnon says counsellors explore a variety of careers with their students, but those usually involve some kind of continued learning after completing high school.
She also says guidance counsellors do not push post-secondary learning on every student if they do not wish to choose that path. They also offer support to students who choose to go straight to work by preparing them while they are still in high school through work experience programs, in which the student can log hours at work to count towards credits for a high school diploma.
These programs are monitored by off-campus teachers who facilitate job placement by either contacting someone from a list of employers who participate in such programs, or if the student expresses interest in a particular position. Students are required to sign a contract with the employer and log their hours. MacKinnon says some students do tend to move into a full-time position with the employer after graduation.
Students who want to work, according to MacKinnon, generally do not want to be in school. She says work experience programs still help those students earn their high school diploma while getting that desired work experience to prepare for life after high school.
"Many of these kids would otherwise drop out," she says.
Data provided by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada suggests that the percentage of 20-to-24-year-olds in Canada who were not attending school and had not graduated from high school has decreased steadily from 16.6 per cent in 1990-91 to 8.5 per cent in 2009-10.
However, an article headlined "High School Drop-Out Dilemma" on the Alberta Primetime website reports that Alberta is considering raising the legal dropout age from 16 to 17 years old, due to the province having the third highest dropout rate in Canada.
The article goes on to suggest, "A high school diploma prepares a student for post-secondary education and is an important step toward success at work. Dropping out of high school can reduce a person's opportunities for employment and earnings."
Not always a bad decision
Tommy Linklater, 26, entered the construction world when he moved to Ontario to work for his uncle in 2003 after leaving Bowness High School. Since then, Linklater says that "work is pretty much all I do now."
Linklater says his school had a lot of support programs to help students who were interested in trades, beauty school, or heading to work after high school. These programs included trades classes that taught students about carpentry and other trades, as well as cosmetology classes and an automotive department.
Linklater did not graduate with a diploma — even though he had extra credits — because he did not take his final English exam. While he worked every summer for his uncle in Ontario, Linklater said he did not participate in Bowness' work experience program because he had a negative, apathetic attitude.
He does note, however, that about 95 per cent of his classmates graduated with diplomas and that the guidance counsellors at Bowness High School did indeed offer to help students looking for work if they were willing to accept the support.
Linklater says the only thing that high school prepared him for in life was accepting consequences.
Preparing for the next step
Meanwhile, student Hebert says that she definitely feels pressure from both counsellors at school and her parents to go to university for business, which she acknowledges as being quite stressful at times.
"I've really been struggling," she says. "They make it seem like you need to figure it all out now or you're not going to do it, and they put a lot of pressure on you. So I just thought I'd come up with business, because my dad said that you can go a lot of ways with that and you can major in different things."
Linklater says that he knew right from Grade 10 that he did not want to move on to post-secondary education, and says that his teachers probably knew that. He says the staff didn't try to push post-secondary education on students who weren't interested, adding, "The teachers know which kids are going to be engineers and which ones are going to paint houses."
Overall, Linklater says is it is up to the students to decide whether or not to take the help that is offered.
He says, "A lot of it boils down to what kind of family you're from and what you want." At that young age, however, he says that unfortunately most kids don't know.
Linklater's advice to students who are wishing to step directly into the workforce is to stay in school and take out student loans; he says he sees at work how difficult it is nowadays to get ahead in a company when you don't have a degree.
Although he has been quite successful on his own — having started his own custom circular stairs business, TL Woodworks, at only age 23 — Linklater stresses that he's seen men work hard for 35 years just to have a 23-year-old with a degree become their boss.
However, says Linklater, this is often impossible to explain to students until they experience it.
Audio clip by Angela Wither