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Unemployment hits new lows as Ontario’s teacher shortage widens

Early-career teacher unemployment receded in 2021 to lows not seen in 15 years. English-language teachers are again in high demand. Severe French and French as a second language teacher shortages continue. Difficult staffing challenges lie ahead for district school boards across the province.

By Frank McIntyre

The latest Transition to Teaching survey saw first-year Ontario education graduate unemployment fall to four per cent. Just one per cent of those in career years two through five report they are unemployed. These rates are down sharply from earlier years.

Unemployment among Ontario education graduates

First year

  • 34 per cent in 2014
  • 14 per cent in 2017
  • 4 per cent in 2021

Years two to five

  • 17 per cent in 2014
  • 7 per cent in 2017
  • 1 per cent in 2021

Unemployment rates are low across all four divisions of qualification. Most striking in the latest survey findings is that first-year primary-junior unemployment dropped to just two per cent, down sharply from six the previous year. First-year intermediate-senior and technological education qualified teachers also made significant gains, reporting only four and three per cent unemployment respectively. Junior-intermediate qualified first-year teachers report an uptick in unemployment from last year. Unemployment rates for all four divisions in 2021 are far below the double-digit rates experienced by first-year teachers even four years ago.

Unemployment rates for first-year teachers in Ontario

Primary-junior division

  • 16 per cent in 2017
  • 6 per cent in 2020
  • 2 per cent in 2021

Junior-intermediate division

  • 17 per cent in 2017
  • 4 per cent in 2020
  • 6 per cent in 2021

Intermediate-senior division

  • 15 per cent in 2017
  • 8 per cent in 2020
  • 4 per cent in 2021

Technological education division

  • 15 per cent in 2017
  • 15 per cent in 2020
  • 3 per cent in 2021

English-language teacher first-year unemployment fell substantially in 2021. Although differences persist between English teacher unemployment and rates for French-language program and French as a second language-qualified graduates, English teachers in their first year now report just five per cent unemployment, compared with eight in 2020, and 19 per cent as recently as 2017. French and FSL first-year teacher unemployment has registered at or near zero for several years.

First-year teacher unemployment by language of qualifications

English-language teachers

  • 19 per cent in 2017
  • 8 per cent in 2020
  • 5 per cent in 2021

FSL-qualified teachers

  • 4 per cent in 2017
  • 1 per cent in 2020
  • 1 per cent in 2021

French-language program graduates

  • 0 per cent in 2017
  • 0 per cent in 2020
  • 2 per cent in 2021

Primary-junior English-language teachers now report just three per cent unemployment in their first year after licensing, down sharply from eight per cent rate in 2020. In the teacher surplus era of the last decade, English-language teacher unemployment peaked at 37 per cent. No longer surplus to Ontario’s needs, these teachers are once again in high demand.

The growing Ontario teacher shortage means less precarious teaching contracts for many first-year teachers. Fewer started their teaching careers on daily rosters – just 34 per cent in the 2020-21 school year, compared with 54 per cent in 2019-20. Year-end daily roster status among first-year teachers dropped to 16 per cent in our 2021 survey. Almost half (45 per cent) reported long term occasional contracts of 97+ teaching days duration, compared with 27 per cent back in 2019. Another 23 per cent held shorter term contracts.

I did not have any issues getting an LTO at the beginning of the school year. I didn't even have to supply this year.
First-year primary-junior graduate, English public DSB

Our surveys ask employed teachers whether they secured as much work as they wanted throughout the school year. Responses to the 2021 survey show a large jump in those reporting full employment. Unlike the initial year of the COVID pandemic, when most daily roster teachers lost all further teaching assignments once physical schools closed in March 2020, this year we found that most who were on daily rosters at the time of the survey continued their employment uninterrupted when schools closed again in April 2021. District school boards employed most of them in the virtual teaching arrangements that concluded the school year.

Full employment reports from first-year teachers

  • 80 per cent in 2021's survey year
  • 60 per cent in 2020's survey year
  • 81 per cent in 2019's survey year
  • 62 per cent in 2017's survey year

These major gains notwithstanding, the second COVID-affected school year was not an easy one for early-career Ontario teachers. Many recent graduates commented on challenges they met as school boards pivoted among physical, virtual, and hybrid models of teaching. Hiring delays and compressed semester arrangements added further stresses. Some expressed worries that their early success in securing teaching jobs might prove transitory, as experienced teachers on leave during the pandemic eventually return to the classroom.

Despite labour market improvements for new teachers in 2021, availability of permanent contracts receded for the second year in a row. Just 17 per cent of first-year teachers obtained these most secure contracts in 2021, compared with 22 per cent back in 2019. Staffing uncertainties given the changing and unclear future requirements for in-person, virtual and hybrid teaching over the past two years may have delayed permanent hiring decisions and account for this reported decline.

English-language Ontario teachers continue to lag French program graduates and FSL-qualified teachers in how early in their careers they gain permanent contracts. Our 2021 survey found 56 per cent of French program graduates held permanent contracts at the end of their first school year, compared with 25 per cent of FSL-qualified teachers, and only 10 per cent of English-language teachers.

Recent changes to Ontario hiring regulations should accelerate new teacher career progress in English-language district school boards. Previously, a graduated entry pathway to permanent employment required extensive daily occasional roster experience to earn eligibility to apply to long term occasional jobs and then permanent teaching jobs. Roster service was not transferable across district school boards. The new regulations establish merit, diversity and the unique needs of schools and communities, rather than seniority, as the focus in hiring to long term occasional and permanent teaching positions. This enables all qualified teachers to compete for jobs in any district school board in the province.

New-to-Canada teachers licensed in Ontario still suffer high rates of unemployment in their first year as Ontario-licensed teachers, despite the strengthening provincial demand for new teachers. Their 37 per cent unemployment rate in 2021 is more than nine times greater than the four per cent rate for graduates of Ontario teacher education programs.

Ontario’s publicly funded school boards increased overall shares of first-year teacher hiring in 2020-21. Most first-year Ontario grads report Ontario English-language (81 per cent) or French-language (seven per cent) district school board employers. Ontario independent schools account for eight per cent of first-year teacher hires, and just three per cent say they are teaching outside the province.

In addition to recruiting larger shares of newly-licensed Ontario education graduates, district school boards also drew on a large contingent of education candidates in 2021 to address a critical shortage of qualified teachers available to fill daily occasional rosters. Temporary certificates of qualification gave advanced Ontario education candidates time-limited Ontario licenses to help with the province’s teacher shortage crunch. Our survey findings suggest more than 1,000 of these qualified teachers got hired throughout the province in the second half of the 2020-21 school year. In effect, they backfilled daily roster shortages replacing the rising numbers of first-year Ontario graduates who secured more long term occasional contracts than in previous years.

Each year, newly licensed Ontario teachers arrive as graduates of Ontario’s teacher education programs, as well as teachers educated in other provinces and abroad. Out-of-province educated new teachers include individuals who migrate to the province, as well as Ontarians who earn their teaching degrees in other provinces, at U.S. colleges near the Ontario border, and elsewhere abroad.

New teachers licensed annually in Ontario

Out-of-province teacher education

  • 3,038 between 2008 to 2011
  • 1,647 between 2012 to 2014
  • 1,214 between 2015 to 2018
  • 1,124 between 2019 to 2022

Ontario teacher education graduates

  • 9,100 between 2008 to 2011
  • 8,340 between 2012 to 2014
  • 5,588 between 2015 to 2018
  • 4,671 between 2019 to 2022

Average total annual new teachers

  • 12,138 between 2008 to 2011
  • 9,987 between 2012 to 2014
  • 6,802 between 2015 to 2018
  • 5,795 between 2019 to 2022

Over the past decade, annual newly certified teacher numbers plummeted from each of these sources. Annual new teachers from Ontario’s faculties of education are now at about half the number who entered the market in years 2008 through 2011. New teachers educated out-of-province dropped to almost one-third the level in those earlier years.

Unemployed teachers from last decade’s teacher surplus years have now either left the province or the profession, or they eventually found teaching jobs in Ontario as new teacher supply declined over the past six years. The labour market for Ontario teachers continues to tighten. Our analysis of 2021 survey findings and the College Registry of licensed teachers estimates fewer than 400 unemployed early-career Ontario graduates remain available for teaching jobs across the province in 2021. This compares with more than 7,700 unemployed estimated at the peak of the Ontario teacher surplus in 2014.Meantime, annual new teacher forecasts are insufficient to meet future teaching job vacancies that will arise from retirements, enrolment growth in some regions, and pre-retirement teacher departures.

Interest in teacher education declined as early-career teacher unemployment rose in the first half of the last decade. Consecutive program teacher applicant numbers fell from more than 12,000 annually in 2010 to about 9,500 in 2014. With continuing job shortages and the introduction of the four semester teacher education program, applicant volumes plummeted to around 4,300 in 2015 and 2016. Since this low ebb in teaching career interest, with growing awareness of higher demand in the Ontario teacher labour market, applicant numbers rebounded. More than 7,400 applied to consecutive B.Ed. programs in 2021.

This renewed interest brings promise of more Ontarians entering teaching careers in the years ahead. This can be achieved through opening more spaces in Ontario’s teacher education programs, by greater enrolment of Ontarians in U.S. border college programs, in the United Kingdom and elsewhere abroad as in past years, or through a combination of these available entry routes for new teachers.

Meantime, as these pipelines may expand and yield larger cohorts of newly-licensed teachers down the road, the next few years will be difficult for Ontario’s district school boards. Teacher shortages will increase for French-language boards. Many English-language boards will have insufficient French as a second language teachers to staff these high demand programs. Chronic shortages of occasional roster teachers will persist for English-language boards, and they will experience increased competition to fill some elementary and secondary teacher LTO and permanent job vacancies.

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