Ontario’s public colleges adapt and thrive in the dynamic beauty sector
Posted March 28, 2019

Paul Langston

On January 17, 2019 the Government of Ontario overhauled the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) and implemented a 10% cut in tuition fees, as well as froze further tuition increases until at least 2021/2022. What impact will this have on the public colleges and particularly those which offer beauty programming? The answer, in short, is that the reaction has been swift and will benefit the beauty industry measurably.

The demand for beauty professionals in Ontario has never been greater, with many salon owners and managers bemoaning the fact that they cannot find nor keep talented team members. Newly graduated entrants to the sector are recruited immediately upon graduation or even prior to. Interestingly, the public sector has not kept up with the demand. This imbalance between demand and supply has been partially filled by growth in the private beauty school segment. Many of these for-profit schools offer specialized programming on top of excellent foundational training for aestheticians and other beauty disciplines. There are however, private schools who boast compressed schedules and are not according the appropriate level of depth and detail to educating the next generation of professionals. That’s where the public colleges have a leg up on most other educational institutions but they are not meeting the needs of the marketplace in terms of quantity of graduates and, in some cases, are not preparing students with up-to-date skills, techniques and protocols.

On the plus side Ontario’s public colleges offer multi-term/multi-year programs and more importantly follow a thoroughly vetted and practiced syllabus delivered by accredited teachers. Unfortunately, unlike the private colleges, the public institutions have demonstrated a slower adoption rate vis-à-vis new beauty trends and employer/marketplace needs. But, we are now evidencing a sea-change in direction at the public college level, both as a result of recent budget challenges and insightful management.

We have recently heard that several of the larger public colleges are expanding their program intake limits as a way to offset the 10% tuition fee reduction. The incremental cost to the school per student is marginal and therefore the additional intake can effectively offset the per capita revenue loss without taxing program resources. This is smart “business” and great for the industry as well. As aforementioned, the additional graduates will easily be absorbed by the strong demand for talent industry-wide.

Additionally, several large public colleges are adding new full-time and part-time programming to address trends in the industry, as well as to boost their revenues. One large Ontario college is initiating a complete medical aesthetics program on top of their renowned, robust aesthetics curriculum. Others are embracing hot trends such as lash extensions and spray tanning either within their existing curricula or through the implementation of continuing education courses. Interestingly, many of the continuing education programs and specialty segments are being facilitated through partnerships with major brands and suppliers to the schools. This is encouraging tremendous relevance to employment opportunities plus providing currency in terms of protocols and product innovation.

The public colleges are required by the Province to install Program Advisory Councils (“PAC”). As opposed to operating these as way to meet a government mandate only the public colleges are instead utilizing this medium as a sounding board and an intelligence gathering mechanism. A high functioning PAC involves stakeholders from industry (distributors, salons, spas and brand manufacturers), consultants and education experts. In addition to a new wave of creative and highly capable teachers and administrators it is this PAC structure that is providing impetus to change within the public sector.

We are excited about what is going on in the public beauty schools. These colleges are adapting to new paradigms. Their scale, discipline and governance will ultimately be the engine for the beauty industry to continue to grow and thrive.

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