Layoffs loom at Conestoga College in wake of coronavirus pandemic: president

The president of Conestoga College says the school will need to lay some staff off in the coming months in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

With the spring semester set to arrive following the Victoria Day long weekend, president John Tibbits has issued a letter about the institution’s future to staff and students.

In the letter, he says that the school expects to see a decline in enrollment domestically and internationally in the fall which will lead to a revenue shortfall.

“International enrolment growth has supported major college investments in technology, research, new academic programming and student services,” he noted.

Tibbits says the school has already exercised other measures to make up for the gap including retirement incentive packages, a hiring and salary freezes, delaying projects and purchases but will now look at laying off part-time employees.

“It is clear, however, that we will be unable to retain the college’s existing workforce indefinitely as we continue to focus on remote delivery and address serious financial shortfalls,” he wrote.

Tibbits says that classroom instruction for many programs at the school may be delayed until next year at the earliest.

“We expect that the Fall 2020 semester will continue to be delivered primarily in remote format,” he wrote. “Our local universities, as well as other colleges across Ontario, are making similar plans.”

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Tibbits says that it would be impractical to return to normal in the fall.

“It is simply not possible for any of us to bring thousands of students onto our campuses and maintain the social and physical distancing required to keep everyone safe,” he said.

The school’s president says it remains unclear how long this will continue.

“We anticipate that this approach may continue for an extended period, perhaps for the next two to three semesters, or until an effective vaccine against COVID-19 becomes widely available,” Tibbits told staff and students.

He says they are hoping that students who still need to complete lab work will be able to do so in the fall.

“These hands-on learning facilities will be operated differently than in the past, with fewer students at any given time, reconfigured spaces, enhanced sanitation protocols and whatever else may be required to support physical distancing and user safety,” Tibbits said.

Like other institutions in the area, Conestoga College has many international students.

The college president says that another issue facing the school is apprenticeships as many employers will not be able to take on apprentices.

“To address this challenge, Conestoga is exploring the potential for training apprentices through high-end simulation tools that can provide them with higher competencies before they enter the workplace,” he said.

Tibbits noted that they have been using this concept for its heavy equipment program.

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