New funding available from the provincial government could hopefully help to fill some of the vacant spots in high demand careers across the province, including here in the Rainy River District.
Introduced last year, the Ontario government’s Stay and Learn grant is aimed at students who might be interested in “priority programs in priority communities” across the province. Some of the programs deemed as priority by the government include nursing, and qualified communities stretch across the northern portions of the province and include Timmins, Thunder Bay and Sioux Lookout. Of potential interest to students in the Rainy River District, however, one such program that is eligible for the Stay and Learn grant is the paramedic program at Seven Generations Education Institute (SGEI).
SGEI paramedic program coordinator Malcolm Daley said that the new grant opportunity will allow more students to access the program, and will also hopefully work to address the number of vacancies the field is seeing in the district.
“We’re another year further into the delivery of our paramedics program, of all of our health discipline programs, it’s always expanding and is a huge area of growth,” Daley said.
“There’s new funding opportunities available that affect the Seven Generations paramedics students. Demand for ambulance services hasn’t changed. It’s only increased throughout the past few years because of the pandemic and then into the post-pandemic world. There hasn’t been a change to the service, but the demand has increased.”
Daley notes that in areas like the Rainy River District, that demand is heightened, particularly as a set number of ambulances have to cover much wider distances than those in closer or more densely populated areas. In order to combat this decline in staff for paramedic and other areas of health care, the new Stay and Learn grant, available for those same paramedic students at SGEI, will make the cost of attending the program much more manageable, in exchange for a time-commitment from those students once they have graduated.
“The Ontario government is launching a new funding initiative to incentivize people to enter careers of high demand in underserved communities,” Daley explained.
“That affects SGEI paramedics students very specifically. The focus of the Learn and Stay grant is basically to encourage northwestern Ontario locals to enter the healthcare careers that are in the highest demand. Paramedics students attending SGEI in the fall will be eligible for the grant, and it will provide the full cost of tuition, books, supplies and all compulsory fees.”
Of course, the name of the grant including the word “stay” highlights one of the key requirement for the funding; namely, that the student must remain in the same region they studied in for sixth months per year of study in their program. Therefore, for a student graduating from the two-year SGEI paramedic program, they must agree to remain and work in the district for one full year after graduating, or the province converts that grant funding into a repayable loan. The only other requirements for the grant is that the student be accepted into an eligible program in a priority community, and be an Ontario resident who is a Canadian citizen, permanent resident or protected person.
According to the SGEI website, the tuition for each year of the two-year paramedic program is $7,711, and does not list the cost of associated textbooks or supplies. With the grant, eligible students will have those costs covered, which removes a significant barrier to entry for those interested in becoming a paramedic, particularly if they are a mature student who might be looking to change careers but might not be able to afford the upfront tuition costs. Even if the student receives the Stay and Learn grant funding, they are still eligible to apply for additional support through the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP), which can further help to mitigate the financial burden.
“Many people who are in to this program are either second career or mid to older adults who have lives, families, jobs and vehicles,” Daley said.
“How do you come up with an extra ten grand? Those are major traditional barriers to educations that will be eliminated by [this grant]. There’s been processes in place for certain initiatives like this for other healthcare fields, and it’s long been discussed that paramedics could or should be included in that, so the inclusion of these programs is a great step forward for the career as a whole, something I’m really excited about, because I’ve seen the value in this for forever.”
Daley said that in addition to encouraging older individuals to potentially make a career change, the grant also encourages local young people to choose to stay close to home to pursue further education, which can make a big deal for northern communities in search of these qualified professionals.
“The best way to resolve a labour crisis or shortage like this is to incentivize people into the field,” he said.
“The ones that are most likely to stay here and work long term are the ones who grew up here, who have family ties here, social commitments here. They’re also the ones who bring a sense of community to the career, and that makes such a huge difference in the healthcare field. We are really hoping to get locals. This is open to anybody who attends our school, but we are community-based in our education style.”
With any luck, the ease of access into an otherwise financially heavy program, as well as the commitment to staying in the area if even for a short amount of time upon graduation will help to address the staffing issues in the area. Daley noted he has seen the situation surrounding supply and demand of paramedics flip completely during his time in the field, and hopes that this funding, and others like it, can help to address the needs of northern community healthcare.
“There didn’t use to be this much demand,” he said.
“There was a time not long ago when there were not enough jobs for the number of graduates. Now it’s the complete opposite. This [grant] really ties a lot into our messaging and our goals. We’re still keeping the same values in the program. We’re still keeping a smaller class size because we want to have low student to teacher ratios. We’re still focusing a lot of our education on regionally specific aspects of the career, cultural awareness and student-centred community-based education. We’re still incorporating the core SGEI values into the program in every way that we can. We’re really excited about the increased ability for students to access this.”
The paramedics program at SGEI is the only one of their programs to be eligible for the grant, but Confederation College’s practical nursing diploma program is also eligible for Stay and Learn funding, giving potential local students two different streams of healthcare within the region that has seen improved access.
For more information about the Seven Generations Education Institute’s paramedics program, contact Daley at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling 807-271-277 ext. 1223. You can also visit the school’s program page at 7generations.org/programs/paramedic/. The applications and further information about the Stay and Learn grant from the Ontario Government can be found on their website.