Opportunities abound in the care economy

In two years defined by the COVID-19 pandemic, another long-anticipated crisis has emerged, adding more challenges to an already complex situation. Few sectors have seen as acute labour shortages as those that make up the care economy, which includes healthcare workers, personal support workers, and childcare workers.

Those who enter these careers are incredibly important for our own wellbeing, that of our families, and of our communities – even more so now, as we continue to face unprecedented healthcare emergencies and our population ages. The work can be challenging, but for students looking to start a fulfilling career, who care deeply about the wellbeing of others, and who want to make a positive impact in their communities, the opportunities can also be deeply rewarding.

High-quality training to meet demand in these sectors is more important than ever. The good news, however, is that we have solutions in Canada’s colleges and institutes. As the country’s largest postsecondary network – over 95% of Canadians and over 86% of Indigenous peoples live within 50km of a college or institute – we are the backbone of Canada’s care economy.

Colleges and institutes offer more than 1,900 health or bioscience-related programs across the country and grant 80% of postsecondary credentials in health and related fields. Their programs train and prepare learners for a range of occupations including primary-care paramedics, addictions and mental health counsellors, nurses, and dental hygienists. They provide high-quality, innovative, and accessible training that continually evolve to meet labour market demands.

When the pandemic exacerbated the shortage of workers in the long-term care sector, we mobilized and worked with the federal government and sector stakeholders to create the free Supportive Care Assistant (SCA) micro-certificate program. The program increases access to a career in the sector by providing learners with online training, a paid work placement, and a $5,000 laddering stipend to pursue further studies.

In addition to providing opportunities for workers to develop in-demand skills and discover new careers, the program is helping meet the needs of communities and employers. For example, Parkland College recently trained 11 SCA students from the Pasqua First Nation in Fort Qu’Appelle Saskatchewan. They completed online training and, during their work placement in a care home, provided much-needed support to residents and staff. Now, 10 of the students are studying to become Continuing Care Assistants and will play an important role in their community, especially as a new long-term care home is set to open and will require trained workers.

Education and training have also undergone major changes in the past two years and has required a new innovative approach. When in-person clinical placements were suddenly shut down due to the pandemic, we launched Virtu-WIL, a program using virtual simulations to enhance healthcare education.

Colleges and institutes came together to develop more than 130 virtual simulations in less than one year to ensure students in nursing, medical laboratory sciences, and paramedicine had access to hands-on learning experiences despite pandemic shutdowns.

These are just a few examples of our ability to adapt to meet the changing needs of learners, employers, and communities. In childcare, for example, demand for workers also continues to rise, particularly as the federal government has now reached agreements with all provinces and territories as part of its Early Learning Childcare plan, which aims to bring the cost of childcare down to 10$ a day. Employment and Social Development Canada anticipates that between 37,000 and 47,000 early childhood educator jobs will be needed to achieve this nation-wide expansion of childcare. It is without a doubt that colleges and institutes will play a critical role in meeting this demand.

Colleges and institutes offer flexible, accessible, and innovative ways to help more people join the care economy. This is not just a great career opportunity for learners; it is also a way to make a meaningful and tangible difference in the life of so many – including some of our most vulnerable – to support Canadians and their families, and to create better, more caring, communities.

By: Denise Amyot, President and CEO, Colleges and Institutes Canada