Ontario English Catholic Teachers

Ford Government’s FAST Program Raises Serious Questions, Threatens Student Learning

“The Ford Conservative government’s newly announced Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program stream, Focused Apprenticeship Skills Training (FAST), pressures students to make big career decisions early on, potentially limiting their learning and growth by locking them into narrow job paths. While Catholic teachers continue to support the exposure of students to the skilled trades and job readiness, we strongly urge the Ford Conservative government to reconsider its approach. This announcement raises far more questions than answers – a fact that is too often the case with this government and its flawed decision making. Students deserve more informed and thoughtful policy.

Teachers and industry experts are already working with co-op students. They are best positioned to support student success and should have been brought in from the beginning, and included every step along the way, for a truly collaborative process.

The specifics of the support structure for FAST are alarmingly vague and raise serious concerns about the feasibility and effectiveness of the program. For instance, what happens if students decide to exit the program prematurely? How will students in the program access school-based supports, including services like mental health and special education? How does the government plan to staff all these additional teacher co-op positions in the middle of a recruitment and retention crisis? Why is the vital role that teachers play in vetting businesses and ensuring students are appropriately placed in co-ops being sidelined for a job-matching portal that hands control to private entities?

The immense focus on immediate job readiness greatly undermines the value of a comprehensive education. By shifting from the existing one to two co-op credit model to an unprecedented eight to 11, students lose out on the valuable learning opportunities that come from a well-rounded educational experience. This includes in-school activities, developing friendships and social skills, as well as the variety of electives that would typically be taken in Grades 11 and 12, all of which are crucial for academic and personal growth. By devaluing these aspects of schooling, the program could make FAST seem like an ‘easier choice’ for students struggling academically, inadvertently reinforcing negative stigmas associated with the skilled trades and further promoting educational streaming – something the Ford government claims they are trying to end.

To meet students’ needs and effectively promote the value of skilled trades, we need a truly collaborative policy development process that involves education and industry partners from the outset, rather than imposing pre-decided programs. Actually using the valuable input from the teachers and industry experts currently working with co-op students is the only sure way to realize a better version of FAST that can be properly integrated into the existing Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program. Such a process is essential to ensure that we are best supporting students with educational strategies and programs.”

- René Jansen in de Wal, President of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association