Lots has been said about the labour shortage in Québec schools since the beginning of the school year. Teachers, professionals and support staff are all needed. For their part, school boards complain of the phone calls puzzle to fulfill the job postings. How to improve the situation?
Many factors in play
Different elements explain the labour shortage in the education sector. In a context where an increase of 65,000 students is expected by the next 5 years and where some 200,000 students require professional monitoring and special support, the headline deficit is glaring.
“At this time, there are too few of our professionals. They barely have enough time to evaluate the students and rarely have time to provide a follow-up or conduct the appropriate interventions. Youth at risk end up on waiting lists that keep getting longer. Detecting or diagnosing without intervention doesn’t help the student at all,” says Jacques Landry.1
The succession in education is also lacking. The number of graduates is stagnating at around 1,400 per year, while about 3,000 students are missing in the education faculties. What’s more, over 20% of teachers drop out in their first 5 years in the workforce.
Finally, absences from work for physical or mental health reasons are increasing for all professionals, as are the number of retirements.
The source of the problem
Québec educational institutions have trouble attracting and retaining personnel, notably because work conditions are difficult and complex. The staff is often in a precarious situation.
“Work overload, overtime, increase of mandated tasks, lack of support, limitations in accommodations for work-family balance or progressive retirement, those are impacts of the labour shortage and it’s a heavy burden for the people we represent. That tension at work hits full force the professionalism of the workers who want to do everything they can to offer the best possible services to students, often at the price of their life balance and at the risk of suffering a burnout,” regrets Sonia Ethier.2
According to Josée Scalabrini,3 the current shortage is the result of the lack of valorization and of the deterioration of the working conditions of teaching staff, amplified by many years of cutbacks. “Sadly, the effects of the lack of resources are felt by everyone, including the students. To attract new blood and keep our colleagues in the schools, a concerted action will clearly need to be made to improve not only the salary, but the teachers’ working conditions as a whole,” she says.
How to mitigate the crisis?
The population views the situation the same way the school network’s personnel does, according to a Léger poll carried out for the CSQ. The survey highlights many measures that, according to the majority of respondents, would have positive mitigating effects on the shortage issues. For example:
Note à Sébastien : trouver un moyen de faire ressortir les %, pas entre parenthèses.
- Increase the number of full-time jobs in education;
- Ensure a higher level of support for new teaching staff;
- Reduce the number of students per class;
- Establish a students/teachers/professionals and support staff ratio;
- Promote professions of the education sector;
- Lessen the workload of the education personnel;
- Establish threshold for professional services and students support;
- Improve education personnel’s wages.
“For support staff, a global improvement of work conditions, including number of hours worked, is needed. In total, 15% of people working in direct students’ services want to quit the school board in the next two years,4” warns Éric Pronovost.5 The main reasons mentioned: insufficient hours, unfavourable work conditions and an insufficient salary (35%). “If we don’t finance education properly, there will always be a shortage,” he adds.
The ball is in the camp of the current government, which is heading for a multi-billion dollar surplus, cleared by cutbacks in public services. In a press conference, Premier Legault insisted on repeating that the surplus should go back in the pockets of Québec’s citizens and not in those of “pressure groups”.
“Education personnel continues to pay a high price for the recent years’ cutbacks. Those workers are citizens first. They pay taxes and fully contribute to Québec’s economic health. We can’t promote education if we don’t promote those who dedicate themselves to it daily,” concludes Sonia Ethier.
1 Jacques Landry is president of the Fédération des professionnelles et professionnels de l’éducation du Québec (FPPE-CSQ).
2 Sonia Ethier is president of the CSQ.
3 Josée Scalabrini is president of the Fédération des syndicats de l’enseignement (FSE-CSQ).
4 FÉDÉRATION DU PERSONNEL DE SOUTIEN SCOLAIRE (2019). Sondage sur la précarité du personnel de soutien scolaire dans les services directs aux élèves, [Online] (August). [fpss.lacsq.org/app/uploads/2019/09/sondage-précarité-soutien-scolaire.pdf].
5 Éric Pronovost is president of the Fédération du personnel de soutien scolaire (FPSS-CSQ).