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Conestoga offers fast-track training for personal support workers

Posted: February 1, 2021

(January 31, 2021)

By: Michelle Ruby, Brantford Expositor

Conestoga College has developed some innovative ways to turn out qualified personal support workers more in demand than ever during the pandemic. The school is offering a PSW-FAST Program, delivered virtually, so it can reach rural and remote locations across Ontario, said Sarah Pottier, chair of PSW and supportive care at Conestoga.

“ Onsite labs are hosted at locations across the region to support hands-on learning, using both employer and Conestoga equipment,” said Pottier. “This unique delivery approach brings health-care education and training to our local communities and is designed to avoid any COVID-19 barriers to education.” Pottier said PSW graduates will likely get a job in their community from the employer where they received training. Conestoga established its Brantford campus in 2012, soon after Mohawk College left its Elgin Street campus. It had nearly 1,000 students enrolled last school year in about 15 programs. Conestoga began offering a PSW program in Brantford last fall and will have a group of students starting in February. ParaMed HNHB, which provides home care services in Hamilton, Niagara, Haldimand and Brant, is sponsoring 30 students to take the February fast-track program. Students will complete their labs in Brantford. Pottier said the college has seen a significant increase in interest in the PSW program, partly because of the employer-sponsorship model, which offers students paid positions, and because of the higher profile front-line workers have received during the pandemic.

“ Some are coming for a complete career change,” said Pottier. They’re seeing an opportunity to be able to help and do something meaningful. They might not be getting the highest wage but they’re saying, ‘I want to help.’” The shortage of PSWs has been a long-time issue that pre-dates the pandemic. A report from the Ontario Health Coalition released in early 2020 called the province-wide shortage of PSWs in long-term care facilities a crisis. That report found many PSWs were leaving the field after being overworked, underpaid, burned out or injured. The province is addressing the shortage with a staffing strategy. The Ontario Personal Support Workers Association has expressed some concern over Conestoga’s fast-track program, having not seen the curriculum. But Pottier said the condensed program, which sees students graduate in five months rather than eight, includes the same course hours, credits and programs. Students are able to finish the program faster because they have longer hours and no break periods.

“ In no way have we changed the program content,” she said. Those who want to get into the fast-track program must meet additional admission criteria. They must have previous post-secondary experience or previous health-care environment experience, which can include volunteering.

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