indicatorThe Owl

Overqualified workers in Canada

1 in 5 workers aged 25 to 49 with a university degree in 2006 experienced overqualification at least once in 2006 or in 2016

By ATB Economics 3 September 2020 2 min read

We probably all know someone who is overqualified for their job. Two classic examples are the barista with a PhD and the cab driver who used to be a physician before coming to Canada.

While other factors such as age and field of study are also in play, difficulty getting foreign credentials recognized, language barriers, lack of Canadian job experience, and discrimination lead to particularly high rates of overqualification among immigrants.

If it’s by choice or short-lived, being overqualified is arguably not a major problem. When it’s persistent, however, it signals the underutilization of skills and education in the labour market and suggests workers are stuck in jobs that provide less pay and less satisfaction than their qualifications merit.

A new study from Statistics Canada that uses data from the 2006 and 2016 censuses sheds light on this topic by providing hard numbers regarding the persistence of overqualification* among immigrants and non-immigrants.

Among workers aged 25 to 49 with a university degree in 2006, 1 in 5 (19.6 per cent) experienced overqualification at least once in 2006 or in 2016.

The proportion for immigrant workers was 29.3 per cent compared to 16.1 per cent for non-immigrant workers.

Persistent overqualification was less common with 5.3 per cent of workers overqualified in both 2006 and 2016, but was higher among immigrants (10.1 per cent) than among non-immigrants (3.6 per cent).

These numbers may seem small, but at 1 in 20 workers  aged 25 to 49 with a university degree, this means that tens of thousands of Canadians are persistently overqualified for their jobs. And while creating good jobs that match the qualifications and interests of workers is not an easy task, the more we can bring these numbers down, the better.

The fact that the ratio of persistent overqualification is 1 in 10 for immigrant workers highlights that we still have a lot of work to do to make sure that our economy is able to take full advantage of the education and skills immigrants bring to Canada and that immigrants are able to find work that matches their qualifications.

*Overqualification is defined in the study as a situation in which university degree holders (bachelor’s degree or higher) hold jobs that require no more than a high school education.

Persistent overqualification signals the underutilization of skills and education in the labour market

Persistent overqualification signals the underutilization of skills and education in the labour market


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