Thank you, Mr. Chair, and honourable members, for having Ontario here today.
Thank you for the opportunity to present an overview of Ontario's bridge training programs. Immigration is fundamental to Ontario's economic future, and Ontario recognizes the increasingly important role that immigrants will play in the province's economic growth as our labour force continues to age and retire. That's why Ontario invests in a variety of programs that help immigrants gain the skills and tools they need to enter the labour market.
Prior to the Ontario bridge training program in pharmacy, as offered by the University of Toronto, the pass rate on the pharmacy exam was 20% for those who took the exam. Thanks to the Ontario bridge training program in pharmacy, Ontario has raised that pass rate to 90% by funding the start-up of the pharmacy bridge training program. That program offers intensive short-term training. For those who pass the exam, the employment rate is close to 100%.
This is the kind of outcome we're looking for in our bridge training programs and what I want to share with you here today.
The main objective of these programs is to achieve exactly these kinds of results through short-term, intensive, specialized, and sector-specific training and employment services. These programs help internationally trained individuals meet the requirements for licensure and employment in their field without duplicating what they already know. The programs complement Ontario's employment services and our province's post-secondary education system.
Since 2003, Ontario has invested over $183 million in more than 240 bridge training programs. These programs have helped over 42,000 internationally trained individuals find work that is in line with their education and experience.
We're looking for two key results with this type of programming.
The first result is for those seeking employment in a regulated profession. We're tracking licensure outcomes and employment outcomes.
The second result is for those seeking work in highly skilled professions that are non-regulated. We want to see employment outcomes and employment at a level commensurate with their skills and education. Getting just any job isn't what we're interested in; it's commensurate employment.
Today I want to talk more about how these programs achieve this type of success. Therefore, it is the who, what, and why of bridge training that I'm going to give you--as fast as I can--and include some recommendations on how we can work on this and move this area forward together.
Let me begin with whom these programs are for. The programs are targeted at a very specialized client group. Participants must have a very high level of English or French language already. To achieve the strongest outcomes in the shortest period of time, participants must have a minimum Canadian level benchmark of seven. In fact, many of our programs are now setting that higher, at Canadian level benchmark eight, which is in line with university requirements for language proficiency.
Participants all have post-secondary education and work experience. These are not international students. Participants must be eligible to work in Ontario. In order to meet the needs of Ontario's labour market and of the participants, citizenship status and employment insurance status are not barriers to participation in Ontario bridge training programs.
What outcomes can we achieve with these programs? Over the years, and in partnership with our service providers, we have defined three categories of bridge training programs that are capable of generating strong licensure and employment results.
The first category--the titles are not very creative, I might add--is called “Getting a License”. Those bridge training programs help skilled internationally trained individuals in regulated professions become registered to practice and get employed in that profession. Here we're tracking licensure and employment rates.
Then there's “Getting a Job”--which also not a very creative title, but it does speak to the purpose. These bridge training programs help highly skilled, internationally trained individuals with international backgrounds in non-regulated but high-skilled occupations, such as finance, IT, or human resources, find commensurate employment. Again, with these programs we're tracking employment and commensurate employment.
Finally, our third category is “Changing Systems” projects. These projects support both licensure and employment outcomes by working with regulatory bodies and with employers, for example, to build a more receptive Ontario labour market, one in which our skilled, professional newcomers can compete effectively for work. Under this category, we have pioneered tools that help employers recruit skilled immigrant professionals and integrate them effectively into their places of work.
Why do these programs get results?
We require our programs to offer a continuum of services from assessment to work force integration strategies. These specialized services are delivered directly or through partnerships with other expert service providers. I have a handout that was shared with the committee. It's a colour handout, and it lists the range of services we ask bridge training program providers to offer, depending on the category of program they are targeting.
What I want to focus on are some of the key findings we have learned about what makes for a successful program. I've offered more of those key findings in a binder that is available and will be distributed to the committee, either electronically or in hard copy if you'd like.
Successful programs target one specific occupation. They offer technical language training and communication training, as well as workplace culture orientation. They consult with employers as well as educators and regulators on the technical curriculum and specialized services in employment. They offer participants direct contact with employers, which is key. The stronger that contact is, the better the employment outcomes are likely to be. From a networking event, to a mentorship, to a paid internship, all these activities increase employment outcomes. Successful programs understand that employment services for highly skilled individuals need to be sector-specific. Results are best when service providers have industry-specific expertise. Finally, they engage a wide range of partners, including credential and language assessors, academic institutions, regulators, and employer champions.
Before I move on to my concluding remarks and recommendations, I want to take a brief moment to talk about financial access to these programs. In cases where a bridging program charges a fee or tuition, we are working closely with our service providers and the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities to ensure that participants in bridge training programs offered at post-secondary institutions are eligible for financial assistance, either through the Ontario student assistance program—that's the OSAP loan—or through a new initiative the province has started called the Ontario bridging participant assistance program. The acronym for that is OBPAP. It's a bursary that provides up to $5,000 to cover the tuition, book, and equipment costs of participating in one of our bridge training programs.
Finally, I'd like to offer four key recommendations on how we can move forward together in this area.
We recommend, first, that a national strategy supports provinces, which have responsibility for post-secondary education and employment services such as these bridge training programs. Federal funding for provincial bridge training programs should be allocated on a three-year cycle to better reflect the multi-year structure of the programs that are being offered. I should note that both orders of government and internationally trained individuals already benefit from a contribution agreement negotiated successfully between the federal government and Ontario to support these programs. We look forward to renewing this agreement, this time on a three-year cycle.
Second, we welcome federal support for the national dissemination of strong bridge training programs and tools.
Third, we recommend federal-provincial collaboration on improving access to financial aid for bridge training program participants. The federal government might like to consider a federal bursary that would also cover child care and transportation and/or expand the federal part-time student loan criteria to cover bridging costs for participants in financial need.
Finally, we welcome an opportunity to work collaboratively with the federal government to augment pre-arrival information services and resources, so that our skilled newcomers can really understand how to get started when they arrive here and what resources are available to them to help re-establish their careers here in Canada.