Published on 2012/10/05

Increasing numbers of women are returning to higher education institutions to pursuing continuing education, showing a savvy for the modern-day workforce realities that men don’t seem to have picked up on.

Every year I interview hundreds of female applicants for our university’s Continuing Studies Public Relations, Digital Communications and New Media Journalism certificate programs. These accelerated, full-time, practical programs attract primarily university or college-educated women in their 20s and 30s with an eye on a good career.

I don’t interview many men. In fact less than 15% of our program’s applicants are men. It’s as if many men, faced with a prolonged economic slowdown and the disappearance of traditional “male” jobs in manufacturing, have given up and aren’t interested in going back to school.

Meanwhile university and college-educated women are flocking to Continuing Studies professional programs. In our complex world, where successful workers will face rapid changes during their working lives, women have figured out the importance of lifelong learning. Of the 30 professions projected to add the most jobs over the next decade, women now dominate 20.

As author Hanna Rosin writes in her book The End of Men, the new economy is reshaping our culture. The very things women are often good at—human contact, interpersonal skills, verbal skills, and creativity—are now more valued in the workplace than brawn or strength.

Women like the applicants I interview have been quicker than men to figure out that a university or college degree, while important, is no longer enough.  There are too many B.A.s and M.A.s struggling to find work or trapped in low-skilled jobs. According to a recent Guardian article, more than 35% of UK university graduates in the previous six years are employed in lower-skilled occupations. 

In Canada, where the unemployment rate for 15 to 29 year olds stands at nearly 12%, having an undergraduate degree is now “the new high school diploma;” it is the bare education minimum that doesn’t make job candidates stand out as it did a generation ago.

Today’s world requires a broad base of skills, not merely a narrow range of outdated technical knowledge. Learning to write an essay, analyze a poem, interpret a work of art, conduct research, and argue a point of view are important skills, but education is also about helping people to find a job, or do their job.

Here’s one suggestion. Continuing Studies should teach code, the language used to create websites. Not just because there is a worldwide shortage of computer programmers. Code is one of the key languages used to communicate in our digital world.

Currently there are few women who know code. But that will change. This summer our Continuing Studies program sponsored two sold-out training sessions called Ladies Learning Code, which taught 80 women how to create websites. Future sessions have been scheduled for the fall.

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Readers Comments

Emily Cross 2012/10/05 at 4:54 am

I find it incredible that 85% of the applicants to your CS program are women! I wonder why that is. The statistics would certainly suggest that, across the board, women are starting to dominate the professional working market. Do you think there’s an element of this that can be attributed to the efforts of affirmative-action-style measures?

    Peter Walton 2012/10/09 at 2:40 pm


    We don’t have affirmative action in Canada and our programs are open to both men and women. I think the increase of women has more to do with their adaptability to a changing world and marketplace. Women have been quicker at recognizing the importance of life long learning to keep current in their jobs as the jobs continue to evolve.

Frank Gowen 2012/10/07 at 11:06 am

Do you think creating courses specifically for ladies (like the coding class mentioned at the end of your piece) discourages men from enrolling, especially since they don’t seem to do so regularly anyway?

Peter 2015/04/27 at 4:42 pm

No. The influx of women seems to be across the board.

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