Ontario budget career program aims to give teens, 20-somethings a running start

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Ontario students will get something to add to their resumé under a new, $190-million “kick-start” career program.

The funds, spread out over three years, will go to school boards, colleges, universities and employers to give teens and 20-somethings specialized learning and hands-on job experience so they “will hit the ground running when they graduate,” said Finance Minister Charles Sousa.

“And the result will be that all-important first bullet-point on their resumé and to help make transitioning into the workforce easier.”

More on the 2017 Ontario budget

The money will create some 40,000 new “work-related opportunities,” he added. That figure includes 17,000 new spots in the province’s popular “Specialist High Skills Major” programs offered to senior secondary school students. These give them real-world assignments in areas such as arts management, hospitality and tourism or the environment.

A “career-ready fund” that provides work placements to post-secondary students and recent grads will also get a boost, as will research positions and fellowships for graduate students who work with industry professionals.

At the University of Waterloo, for example, co-op students work with IBM on cybersecurity issues.

The Ontario government will also add 100 paid internship positions, beefing up the current program that mainly employs graduate students.

“A rapidly changing economic environment means students need better supports to enter the workforce,” Deb Matthews, the province’s minister of advanced education and skills development, has said.

“Employers are looking for job-ready graduates . . . . Our Career Kick-Start plan will help learners of all ages develop practical skills, while building a stronger bridge to careers for people moving from the classroom to the workplace.”

For adults struggling to complete high school, the province is also pledging more money to help them earn their diploma or upgrade their skills. The amount will be announced in the coming weeks.

“We believe that learning is a lifelong journey,” Sousa told the Ontario legislature Thursday. “…So for adults looking to find their next learning opportunity, land a better job or move into their next career, we’re launching the ‘Ontario Lifelong Learning and Skills Plan.’ This will help adults get the literacy, numeracy and digital skills they need to thrive in a changing economy.”

Also in Thursday’s budget was good news for graduating post-secondary students who will now only start repaying their provincial loans when they are earning at least $35,000 a year, up from the current $25,000.

RESPs will no longer affect student-aid calculations, and the amount parents are expected to contribute will also go down.

In Ontario, more than two-thirds of adults have a college or university degree.

Starting this fall, 210,000 students from low-income homes will be eligible for non-repayable grants that exceed their tuition costs.

School boards wanting to renovate or rebuild elementary and secondary schools will receive $16 billion over the next decade.

The budget also says the handful of provincial schools — for the deaf or hard of hearing, or for students with severe learning disabilities — will remain open.

But there was no money to save some 300 threatened public and Catholic schools. NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said: “There is no commitment in the budget to stop closing schools.”

She also criticized the government for chopping $4.6 million in special education funding.

Currently, many boards already spend more than they receive for their neediest students.