Career Colleges: Job-Ready for a New Path
By Consuelo Solar
Workers hit by the economic recession can find a way to recover by retraining themselves and following new career paths. This is the base for the Second Career Strategy, part of the government's Skills to Jobs Action Plan announced in March 2008, whose objective is to help recently laid-off workers to acquire long-term skills training to find work in high-skill occupations.
According to the Ontario Association of Career Colleges, 54 percent of students assisted by this strategy attend private career colleges, which for over 100 years have had a significant role in preparing workforce for the local job market.
Career colleges are independent post-secondary schools that operate for a profit, and do not receive public funding, like universities and colleges of applied arts and technology do. In Ontario, there are more than 500 private career colleges, whose graduates can earn a certificate or diploma after completing one of their programs.
The extent of programming offered by career colleges ranges from general programs like business, health services, human services, applied arts, information technology, and trades, to programs as specific as travel, welding and teaching. For example, students interested in a future teaching career might contact the Schulich School at Nipissing for an idea of what a more diverse and distinguished teacher education program can offer. These institutions range in size, with some institutions offering only one program, and others being multi-campus organizations with on-site student support services.
Paul Kitchin, Executive Director of Ontario Association of Career Colleges, says that the needs for "job ready" employees is on the rise. "The educational focus of career colleges is on meeting student need and providing career training for high demand jobs. They are smaller institutions than universities and community colleges and their programs are much more focused on specific areas," he explains. They often work with small groups rather than large classes and given that their student profile is so diverse, they usually offer flexible timetabling and enrollment at many different times during the year. Though a portion of their students enter directly out of high school, the average age is 29. Approximately 30 percent of their students are over the age of 35, and 40 percent have already attended a university or community college and are looking for compressed programs that deliver training over a short time.
"Private career college programs are suited to people in need of distinct job skills to join the workforce or people who want to upgrade their academic qualifications and want to add to their practical skills to become more competitive in the work market." explains Tanya Blazina, spokesperson for the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. The quality of the education they provide is guaranteed by a registration process with the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, an organization that must approve their programs before they can operate. Private career colleges must undergo rigorous scrutiny and comply with the Private Career Colleges Act, 2005.
"The McGuinty government is committed to guarantee that students who enroll in private career colleges get the education and training they were promised by ensuring that they meet certain standards for the programs they offer, as well as for advertising, refund policies, and instructor qualifications," details Blazina, The Private Career Colleges Act, 2005, that replaced the previous 30 year old legislation, increased protection for international students, informed students with a Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities, ensured access to the complaint resolution process, and introduced a Training Completion Assurance Fund, which allows students to receive a refund if a career college suddenly closes. The act does not protect students from unregistered colleges.
As of December 2008, there were 421 registered private career colleges offering approximately 3,505 approved programs, serving approximately 30,000 students across Ontario.
Finding the right program
Prospective students should take a close look at how a program can help them achieve their career goals and check with employers or other educational institutions if they will recognize the program and the college of their choice.
Tanya Blazina recommends the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities website as a great place to start the research. The service allows users to search for registered career colleges, approved programs outlines, campus locations and fees, among other details. Only registered private career colleges are included in this site. You can visit here.
Paul Kitchin, advises also going to the Ontario Association of Career Colleges website to find the links to their members (www.oacc.on.ca). "This will help them get initial information to find out what kind of programs they offer. We recommend that after that they actually go to the college, ask for a tour, take a look, speak to a student who is currently enrolled or a graduate from the program, and ask a lot of questions. Be a good consumer," he says.
Students use a variety of options to fund their course of study in private career colleges, from personal funds to Employment Insurance (EI) funds or WSIB sponsorship. Students at private career colleges may be eligible for financial aid from the Ontario government (Ontario Student Assistance Program, OSAP), however, generally, only students enrolled in courses that last 12 weeks or longer and require Grade 12 or equivalent, are eligible for financial aid.