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article imageOntario's '2nd Career Program' no longer holds out hope

By Stephanie Dearing     Sep 25, 2009 in Politics
At a crucial time in Ontario's recovery from the recession, thousands of unemployed people are learning that they cannot access the retraining programs they were slated to start this fall.
Ontario's 2nd Career program was touted by the government of Ontario as a way to get a targeted 20,000 unemployed people get back on their feet again. It is a strategy that has been approved by the International Labour Organization's Global Job Pact, which advocates governments spending money on supports for the unemployed, including retraining. The program, which is not easy to get into, pays tuition, books, transportation costs, as well as some living expenses for approved applicants. The program was created to support short-term retraining, and the only programs approved are those that can be completed in two years or less.
Earlier this week, people who had been approved to start their retraining programs next week received phone calls from the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, informing them that there were no funds available for them. The Ministry person who called reportedly told students that they might be able to continue with their educational upgrading in January.
The 2nd Career program was facing difficulty earlier this year because it was not attracting enough applications. That problem saw a rejigging of applicant criteria was rejigged, and the government allowed people laid-off as far back as 2005 to apply. But the Ministry failed to take into account Ontario's continuing job losses, which has meant that thousands of people are turning towards education and training with the hope they will be able to get jobs when they graduate. The Ministry has been swamped with applications.
The original goal of 2nd Career was to re-educate 20,000 unemployed workers over a three year period. The Ministry said that it has already reached that limit. One applicant, who had applied for her funding in August, said that she was never told that the funding might be a problem. Jane Code told the Record that she was upset about being notified about the lack of funding only one week before she was to start her class. "I think it’s very, very unprofessional. If I would have known earlier, I could have made other arrangements, other plans.”
People who have been approved for the program have felt hopeful that they would be able to obtain employment after their graduation. The average age of applicants is 40.
The program started June 1, 2008. Since then, it has been a source of controversy over the length of time it takes to apply for the funding, as well as for the seemingly arbitrary decisions being made on individual applications. An unknown number of people have simply given up applying for the program after being made to wait for up to five months before they could even apply for the program. The program requires applicants to complete a huge amount of paperwork, the equivalent of a small book, to demonstrate that the market for the career being considered would support more entrants.
John Tibbets, President of Conestoga College based in the Kitchener-Waterloo area, expressed anger over losing 60 students at the last minute. There is no word yet from colleges and other training programs on how they have been financially impacted by the sudden halt to the funds and loss of students. It is known that educational institutions keep a certain number of spaces open in the programs approved by the government for those sponsored by 2nd Career. Centennial College, for example, issued a press release saying that it had 525 2nd Career students registered for September.
The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities has told the media that it will continue to fund the 2nd Career program, but the process has been slowed down. The applicants denied funding to start their programs next week have been told that they will have to wait until January. Potential students are anxiously awaiting news from the government.
Since 2008, two-thirds of Canada's job losses have occurred in Ontario, with the manufacturing sector being hard hit. Retraining and pursuing new qualifications has become popular during the recession among the unemployed.
Those who were approved for retraining and had their education delayed may well have to apply to welfare in the interim period. Welfare rates are reportedly "soaring," and there continues to be pressure on the Government of Ontario to increase welfare rates, which remain low.
Ontario's jobless rate increased to 9.4% in August, with another 207,000 jobs lost in the province in that same period.
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