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Teacher Shortages Mean More Jobs for New Graduates

The 2019–20 school year presented hurdles for some new teachers, but higher demand this year and beyond points to further employment gains for recent and future education graduates in the years ahead.

By Frank McIntyre and Elizabeth Malczak
Illustration: iStock

Teacher in classroom with two students.

Unemployment for early-career teachers continues to recede. With an insufficient number of future Ontario teachers on track to start their teaching careers, this shortage will challenge school boards for the next several years.

Recent education graduates in Ontario report less unemployment in the 2019–20 school year than in years past. The latest Transition to Teaching survey finds first-year Ontario graduate unemployment at six per cent, with an average rate for teachers in years two through five between two and three per cent. These reports are much lower than the double-digit unemployment rates of recent years.

Despite the positive labour market for Ontario's early-career teachers in 2019–20, the journey was not easy for those trying to progress from part-time to full-time teaching jobs.

School closures in March 2020 ended all further teaching assignments for many daily occasional roster teachers and cut into weekly teaching days for others. Many first-year teachers say they did not teach as much as they wanted to during the school year. This underemployment rate jumped to 34 per cent in 2020 from just 14 per cent the previous year. Reports of job interview and appointment delays after schools closed added to the COVID-19 fallout that hit some newly licensed Ontario teachers.

Meanwhile, collective agreements with the province's teacher federations resolved future uncertainties with respect to average class size funding for Ontario district school boards. Proposals to increase student/teacher class sizes in secondary schools from 22/1 to as high as 28/1 are no longer on the table. Nonetheless, averages did rise to 23/1 in 2019–20 from 22/1 the previous year, restricting job opportunities for secondary panel teachers.

The combined effects of school closures, which delayed some teacher hiring, and secondary class size increases can be seen in the differences in the unemployment rate across certification divisions among first-year teachers.

(Click to enlarge)
A pie chart showing the unemployment rates for early-career teachers and a bar graph showing the annual new and annual retiring teachers. Long description follows below.

The first section is titled Unemployment Rates for Early-Career Teachers and has two pie charts showing the percentage of unemployment rates of first year teachers and teachers years two to five in 2014, 2017 and 2020.

First Year

Years Two to Five

The second section is titled Annual New and Annual Retiring Teachers and has a bar graph showing the percentage of annual new and annual retiring teachers between 2008 and 2022.

2008 to 2011

2012 to 2014

2015 to 2018

2019 to 2022

The lack of new teacher supply to meet annual teacher hiring requirements in Ontario in recent years has reduced first-year teacher unemployment across the divisions. Our 2020 survey results depart from this trend.

Primary-junior teachers maintained the low six per cent rate reported in 2019, down significantly from 16 per cent in 2017. Intermediate-senior first-year teacher unemployment jumped from four per cent in 2019 to eight in 2020, although this 2020 rate remains well below the 15 per cent recorded in 2017. Technological education first-year teachers in 2020 also report a jump from no unemployment in 2019 up to 13 per cent. The low number of tech-ed teachers and survey respondents, however, warrants some caution in interpreting this result. Junior-intermediate teacher unemployment increased from three to four per cent, according to this year's survey.

Language of instruction and employer variances persist in this year's reports on early-career teacher progress from part-time to permanent teaching employment. French district school board teachers moved quickly from daily roster or long-term occasional teaching to permanent contracts. More than half found permanent jobs in the first year after licensing, and four out of five teachers did so by year three. Similarly, almost one in three French as a Second Language (FSL) qualified graduates teaching in English district school boards landed permanent contracts in the first year, and by year five, four in five had permanent employment.

By contrast, just five per cent of English district school board teachers without FSL qualifications found permanent employment in year one and only 43 per cent by year five. This very slow career progress is, in part, a residue of the substantial oversupply of English-language teachers until more recent years.

The staged hiring process in English-language school boards has been another substantial obstacle to non-FSL teachers settling into their careers. Eligibility-to-hire status has not been transferable across district school boards. This required teachers to wait for permanent job opportunities in their own school board once they reached sufficient seniority. Even highly experienced occasional teachers could not apply for positions for which they qualified outside their own boards.

This provincial hiring regulation changed in 2020, however. Starting in the 2020-21 school year, district school boards across the province will generally be able to consider all qualified applicants for long-term occasional and permanent job vacancies, regardless of whether the applicants are already employed by — and have seniority with — their board. Over time, this change will enable more English-language teachers to move from precarious to permanent teaching jobs earlier, and to do so in communities where they want to teach over the long term.

(Click to enlarge)
A bar graph showing the early-career teachers with permanent contracts and a pie chart showing the unemployment rate for first-year teachers. Long description follows below.

The first section is titled Early-Career Teachers with Permanent Contracts and has a bar graph showing the percentage of early-career teachers with permanent contracts in the French-language District Board, FSL-qualified teachers in the English District Board and English-language teachers in the English District Board.

French-language District Board

FSL-qualified teachers in English District Board

English-language teachers, English District Board

The second section is titled Unemployment Rate for First-Year Teachers and has four pie charts showing the percentage of unemployment rates for between first-year primary-junior, junior-intermediate, intermediate-senior and technological education teachers between 2017 and 2020.




Technological Education

The labour market for early-career Ontario teachers in 2020 is much different from the teacher surplus market of years past. Back in 2014, almost 33,000 Ontario education graduates licensed in the preceding five years were active on the Ontario teacher job market. An estimated 7,700 were unemployed that year. Six years later, the comparable labour market-active group was around 20,000, a reduction of about 40 per cent. With average unemployment plummeting from 24 to three per cent, the estimated number of early-career teachers unemployed in 2020 is down to about 600.

Our updated data used to forecast newly licensed teachers and retirements annually indicates a much narrower teacher supply margin than at any time over the past two decades. Unemployment among early-career teachers should move even lower over the next several years. An insufficient number of new teachers are on track to enter the market over the next few years to fill increasing retirement vacancies, as well as to staff additional classrooms needed for elementary/secondary student growth in some regions.

The underlying teacher supply/demand demographics will be very challenging for district school boards in the years ahead. COVID-19 makes dealing with this teacher replacement deficit even more difficult. Fewer members than anticipated renewed their licences in 2020, resulting in a loss of about 3,600 qualified teachers. Whether and when these "missing" teachers may be available to meet future staffing needs is uncertain.

We expect that occasional roster teachers laid off in March 2020 had the opportunity to resume their teaching careers when schools reopened in September. Most told us they wanted to do so. School boards staffed both virtual and physical classrooms in 2020-21, and with temporarily decreased class sizes where extra one-time resources were permitted. We understand that the boards staffed more than usual long-term occasional and permanent job openings from their occasional teacher rosters. This shifts some of the burden of future recruitment and staffing to replenishing occasional teacher rosters.

The next several years will challenge district school boards in every area of recruitment from daily occasional rosters to permanent job vacancies. Shortages will worsen for French-language boards. English-language boards will experience shortages beyond FSL educators, and they will need to recruit widely and continuously to fill both elementary and secondary teacher job vacancies.

The current number of Ontario teacher education graduates is not sufficient to meet future needs. Far fewer out-of-province teachers move to Ontario these days than in 2015 and in earlier years. Until these structural shortage problems are resolved, there is a pool of potential new Ontario teachers that school boards can recruit to meet some of the province's short-term needs. In the teacher shortage years, many Ontario education graduates moved to other provinces and countries to start their teaching careers. More than 2,000 College members in 2020 reside outside Ontario's borders. Our 2020 survey finds that many of these Ontario-licensed teachers would like to return to Ontario. The revised Ontario hiring regulation not only allows hiring of teachers from other Ontario boards, it gives boards more scope to hire College members outside Ontario's borders.