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Social Sciences, Humanities Degree Holders Find Rewarding Work Eventually, But Face Employment Challenges as New Graduates

Ottawa, February 22, 2018—Despite the stereotypes of Bachelor of Arts grads working as baristas or living in their parents’ basements, most social sciences and humanities (SSH) undergraduate degree holders have good, well-paying jobs and are employed throughout the economy, according to a new report by The Conference Board of Canada.

The report, Getting to Work: Career Skills Development for Social Sciences and Humanities Graduates, finds close to half of SSH undergraduate degree holders work in jobs related to business, finance, and administration; as well as education, law, and social, community and government services. The employment rate of social sciences graduates was 82.2 per cent and 77.6 per cent for humanities degree holders, compared to 82.6 per cent for undergraduate degree holders across all fields of studies and 70.7 per cent for those with a high school diploma.

“Each year, almost 60,000 Canadians receive an undergraduate degree in social sciences and humanities and are equipped with a wide range of skills that allow them to pursue a variety of career paths. While many of these graduates face challenges entering the workforce shortly after graduation, over time most will go on to rewarding careers, and their earnings and job satisfaction levels are comparable to graduates from other disciplines,” said Dr. Matthew McKean, Associate Director, Education, The Conference Board of Canada.


  • Most social sciences and humanities graduates go on to have rewarding careers, but face challenges in the initial transition to employment.
  • In the short term, social sciences and humanities degree holders struggle to find work that demands the skills developed during their program, such as critical thinking, written and oral communication, and creativity.
  • Some PSE institutions are responding to the challenge by focusing more on career preparation in social sciences and humanities undergraduate programs.

In the years immediately following graduation, SSH undergraduate degree holders earn less, are less likely to be employed in a job directly related to their degree, and are more likely to be overqualified for their current position compared with undergraduate degree holders as a whole. Three years after graduation, SSH graduates are somewhat more likely than university graduates as a whole to be employed in part-time work. Meanwhile, only 74 per cent of humanities graduates found full-time work three years after graduation compared to 84 per cent of graduates across all fields of study.

However, the employment outcomes of SSH graduates improve over time. While SSH graduates earn less than graduates with degrees in computer science, math, engineering, and business, their earnings were more stable, growing at smaller but more consistent rates, eventually narrowing the earnings gap with their STEM counterparts. Most SSH degree holders also report being generally satisfied with both their career and program of study. Furthermore, while the career outcomes of SSH graduates lag those of STEM graduates, they earn more than individuals with a college diploma and have more stable careers.

Lack of work experience, limited awareness of career paths, and employer misperceptions about the skills of SSH graduates are making it difficult for SSH graduates to make efficient transitions to the workforce. The report urges the PSE and skills sectors to direct more resources towards addressing the career transition challenges facing SSH graduates.

Governments, post-secondary institutions, faculty, career services staff, employers, and students can support initiatives that help SSH students explore career paths, navigate the labour market, and apply their skills. The report provides eight recommendations to help ease career transitions of SSH degree holders:

  • Collect and distribute information on the career pathways and transitions of SSH graduates.
  • Communicate to students the skills developed in SSH programs.
  • Encourage students to think about career paths and skills development at the beginning of their degree program.
  • Increase opportunities for participation in experiential learning.
  • Offer career development programs tailored to SSH students.
  • Strengthen links between SSH students and alumni.
  • Increase employer awareness of the valuable skills taught in SSH programs.
  • Evaluate and share information on career development initiatives.

Report co-author, Liz Martin, will present research findings at a live webinar on March 28, 2018 at 2PM ET.

Join our conversation about social sciences and humanities pathways: follow #SSHgettingtowork.

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