The many cracks in our system the pandemic has uncovered cannot be disputed. From the social and economic inequality homeschooling has shed light on, to the catastrophic state of the health-care industry, now is the time for many serious issues to finally be addressed.
Rising to the top of the list is the extreme shortage of personal support workers (PSWs) required to fight the pandemic and inequality in funding for the private colleges that train many of these essential workers. The Ontario Health Coalition and the Canadian Union of Public Employees estimate that more than 20,000 PSWs are needed right now in the long-term care sector alone.
As part of the Ontario government’s Long-Term Care Staffing Plan released a few months ago, public colleges have received funding to offer a tuition-free Accelerated PSW Training Program to 6,000 students and a $2,000 tuition grant to an additional 2,200 students. While the government’s commitment to addressing the PSW staffing crisis in our long-term care homes is certainly a welcome move, as the owner and operator of a private career college (PCC), I am also gravely concerned by the decision to deny career college students access to similar funding and the downstream impact of such policy decisions. Career Colleges Ontario data highlights PCCs are responsible for training 70% of the province’s personal support workers each year. Of those enrolled, 69% are women, 57% are over the age of 30 and just over half, 52%, are first-generation immigrants.
Our sector’s strength is its readiness to supply more PSWs quickly and efficiently, providing our health-care system with workers who are well-trained to respond to the existing staffing crisis that COVID-19 has so acutely highlighted. The unintended consequences of partial funding will not only negatively impact the PSW pipeline in the long-term, but also create a business environment that will eventually bankrupt career colleges that contribute so much to the economy and job creation in our province. As always, the impact will be felt acutely by our city’s most vulnerable residents.
This decision is also at odds with the federal government’s recent pledge to bring 1.2 million immigrants to Canada over the next three years. Computek College, for example, is laser focused on rapidly evolving its frontline worker programs to address the critical shortage of workers in Ontario’s health-care sector. All of Computek’s programs are carefully crafted to meet the specific needs of newcomers and recent immigrants with the objective of empowering them to secure employment as quickly as possible and contribute to the struggling economy as Canada pushes to recover from COVID-19. The college trains approximately 200 personal support workers every year and nearly half of the graduating class are, in fact, internationally trained nurses who are keen to lend their knowledge and expertise to Canada.
Private colleges urgently need government assurance that there will be equivalent funding for personal support worker career college students. Public and private colleges can work together to ensure we can continue to supply our communities with desperately needed frontline health-care workers and enable a growing number of new Canadians to secure employment as we begin to rebuild our city, province and country.
Muraly Srinarayanathas is the Chief Executive Officer of Computek College, which has been training newcomers in Ontario for 30 years.