Across Ontario, a shortage of Early Childhood Educators is making it difficult for parents to find childcare spaces for their children. This is an issue that cannot be solved without a closer look at the training-to-employment pipeline offered by regulated career colleges.
Have you ever wondered about the options that await your child in some of the earliest stages of their developmental journey? Or the crucial role that those who guide them through it play in their lives? Well, we certainly have. In this month’s article, we dive into the reasons behind the looming childcare crisis in Ontario and Canada. Early Childhood Educators (ECEs) and Early Childhood Assistants (ECAs) are essential and our society simply cannot thrive without them. Although the notion of affordable childcare has recently dominated the ECE discourse, it is becoming increasingly obvious that the shortage of childcare options is an issue that is far more complex and spills beyond the confines of mere affordability.
The Canada-Wide Early Learning and Child Care (CWELCC) agreement is a joint federal – provincial agreement in which both governments are working together to reduce childcare fees for children under six years of age in our province to an average of ten dollars per day by 2026, while simultaneously adding 86,000 more childcare spaces in Ontario alone. Although this is a very welcome step taken by our governments in recognition of this impending issue, Rachel Vickers of Early Childhood Educators Ontario (AECEO) rightfully points out the need for a more wholesome approach to the childcare shortage in Ontario if we truly endeavour to solve it:
“While it is positive to hear the Ontario government speak about expanding licensed child care, advocates cautioned that it will be impossible to increase the number of licensed spaces without addressing the child care workforce crisis. Around Ontario, child care programs cannot operate at capacity right now because of the child care recruitment and retention crisis, let alone plan for expansion.”
We couldn’t agree more. Without these Early Childhood Educators, new childcare spaces simply will not be available. With parents having an increasingly difficult time finding childcare spaces for their children, it is no longer merely an issue revolving around affordability, but a far more complex issue taking into account a myriad of factors including labour shortages along with workforce recruitment and retention. In fact, Ontario is suffering a projected ECE shortage as high as 8,500 by 2026.
At present, Ontario is not able to produce enough ECEs to accommodate The Canada-Wide Early Learning and Child Care (CWELCC) agreement, otherwise known as the “$10/day childcare” program.
In April of last year, our National counterpart The National Association of Career Colleges (NACC), announced the signing of an Academic Articulation Agreement with Canadore College. This first academic articulation agreement for a NACC program in the 125-year history of the association offered graduates of the new NACC Early Childhood Assistant program the opportunity to enter the second year of Canadore College’s Early Childhood Education Diploma Program. In sum, this opened doors for career college students to be able to pursue an Early Childhood Education Diploma for the first time in our nation’s history. As exciting as this step in the right direction was, it simply isn’t enough.
Regulated career colleges are prevented from offering the full ECE program and can only partner with Canadore College who has recognized the ECA program as core competencies for the first year of the ECE program. With only 100 spaces available, it has made the full ECE entry difficult and limiting for career college students. We must ask ourselves : Why aren’t we utilizing the incredible source of untapped workforce potential that regulated career colleges constitute?
When labour shortages at the height of the pandemic ravaged our healthcare system, career colleges stepped-up to the plate and answered the province’s call for more Personal Support Workers (PSWs), ultimately accounting for roughly 80% of all PSWs in Ontario. When the government incentivized PSW program enrollment through making the Challenge Fund accessible to regulated career college students, it soon became clear that regulated career colleges were brimming with hardworking, skilled graduates eager to join the workforce and alleviate these shortages. With over 6000 students taking advantage of the second Challenge Fund, we have been able to demonstrate that we are able to scale-up operations and training as soon as we are given the opportunity to do so.
Since we do not believe in simply dwelling on the devastating implications of a prolonged, province and nation-wide ECE shortage, let’s take a moment to reflect on the solutions that are readily available to us in terms of workforce retention & recruitment.
With high-quality, government-approved programming the likes of which regulated career colleges offer, we are doing our province and our country a great disservice by withholding the same career opportunities enjoyed by our public counterparts, from career college students. Let’s not forget that career college students are unique in their purpose-driven mindset and determination in the workforce.
More than half of the career college students surveyed in the Ontario Impact Study (2022) had already attended a college or university prior to attending career college, with most of those already holding a degree, diploma, or certificate. For these students, attending a career college was not an alternative to other forms of post-secondary education, but a direct path they chose from existing education into the job market. This distinctively purpose-driven mindset is a key factor behind the high program completion, graduation and job market success rates they enjoy. Simply put, career colleges are a reliable training-to-employment pipeline. So why aren’t we utilizing it to address the ECE shortage?
By allowing regulated career colleges to build on their existing program success by fully delivering an Early Childhood Educator program, we could once again channel job-ready, purpose-driven individuals into both Ontario’s and Canada’s Early Childhood Education system, making more childcare options available to Ontarians and Canadians from coast to coast.
We need more ECEs.
We have what it takes to train them.
What are we waiting for?