Warren Smokey Thomas and Eddy Almeida

OPSEU/SEFPO statement on PSW funding for Willis College

We are disappointed by the government’s proposal to give $2.4 million to a private career college, Willis College in Ottawa, to train 300 personal support workers (PSWs) for Ottawa-area long-term care homes.

Both OPSEU/SEFPO and the government know there is a desperate need for more PSWs. Thousands of new PSWs must be trained quickly and appropriately so we have a skilled workforce in place. We have been saying that for a long time.

We’ve also been pointing out that the main reasons for the shortage are the abysmal working conditions and terrible wages that come with the position. COVID-19 has shone a bright light on this bad situation.

We agree that waiving student tuition and paying for their textbooks is the right way to go, and we roundly commend the government for this action. This is exactly the kind of concrete action we need to address the crisis.

But offering this opportunity through a for-profit college is wrong-headed. Just months ago, we clearly indicated that the best way to go was through our excellent, publicly funded colleges.

The capacity to graduate many more PSWs in a relatively short period of time is absolutely there in our colleges. They have the most advanced expertise built up over decades of experience. All they lack is the financial means to deliver the programming.

In the 1970s, the province funded 75 per cent of our college system. That number has plummeted to 40 per cent. Starving our colleges has meant skyrocketing tuition rates and whopping student debt. It has forced colleges to look for other sources of income – sometimes resulting in costly boondoggles, like failed campuses in Saudi Arabia.

Our colleges play a pivotal role in the lives of millions of Ontarians and in the success of the province’s economy. The government must fully fund them to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow and let them focus on educating people instead of making them scramble to dream up moneymaking schemes.

Putting money in private colleges’ pockets is not the way to go. For every tax dollar the government puts into a for-profit college, a chunk of it goes right into corporate coffers. That’s badly needed money that’s diverted from the classroom. We need to use scarce public funds to invest in public colleges, where every dollar is spent on delivering the highest-quality education.

The critical shortage of PSWs also underscores the folly of performance-based funding, which will base government funding on metrics outside the colleges’ control – including graduate employment earnings. Since PSWs and other front-line heroes are unlikely to earn six-figure salaries, some colleges may be unable to offer them training. Smaller colleges in particular will be forced to make wrenching choices about their course offerings.

Ontario needs more PSWs. It needs outstanding, fully funded post-secondary education that is accessible and affordable for all. The last thing it needs is academic middlemen siphoning off post-secondary funding.

We have a better plan – and we are ready to sit down with the government to lay it out. This can be a win-win situation. Let’s get to work.

In solidarity,

OPSEU/SEFPO President Warren (Smokey) Thomas
Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida, OPSEU/SEFPO First Vice-President/Treasurer

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