Attention Corporate Trainers! Are you in violation of the Private Career Colleges Act, 2005?

Attention Corporate Trainers! Are you in violation of the Private Career Colleges Act, 2005?

Lifelong education and ongoing training have become hallmarks of this century’s work ethos as corporations take advantage of new approaches and tools and employees work to remain relevant.

Increasingly, the corporate sector has adopted and implemented in-house training programming and we now have myriad corporations and organizations that provide training or continuing education. But those companies could be unwittingly caught by the rules and regulations of provincial legislation in Ontario, if they make those programs available for sale to members of the general public, or prospective “students.”

So, who exactly is a member of the general public or a student in the eyes of the Superintendent of Private Career Colleges (Superintendent)? Corporations take notice! Yes, even your own employees could be considered “students” in the eyes of the law if they are paying for an education program directly, and your program is not 100 per cent funded by the corporation or organization itself. Do I have your attention yet?!

In one extreme example, my client was a multinational training organization with no interest in awarding credentials (diplomas or certificates). However, employees paid for the corporate training program directly and were reimbursed pursuant to the company’s bona fides reimbursement policy. Employees often embraced this process, so they could earn loyalty points and air miles. However, the then-Superintendent did not embrace this process, and we had to fight to get the organization exempted. We succeeded.

Let’s back up now. What are the main criteria used by the Superintendent to determine whether an organization is required to register as a private career college?

PCCA registration criteria

As a rule, any organization (corporation or otherwise) that offers courses and sells them will be captured by the Private Career Colleges Act (PCCA) if those programs are both more than 40 hours long and cost more than $2,000.

Under those specifications found in subsection 9(1) of Ontario Regulation 415/06, the Ontario government — through the Ministry of Colleges and Universities — will consider your organization a vocational training college and the program must be registered.

In layperson’s terms, that means you are considered to be a private career college or “school,” not merely a corporate trainer — subject to other exemptions (including a religious training exemption) that you can avail yourself of, and which are generally secondary or ancillary considerations by trainers. These other exemptions are important to you.

It should be underscored that both elements must be in place: If the program costs $10,000 but is only 30 hours in duration, for instance, it is exempt from the approval requirement found in s. 23, PCCA. A word of caution: the Superintendent will still be scrutinizing your program if they deem it to be exempt, but it exceeds either the hours or monetary threshold. The policy rationale for this is beyond the scope of this article.

A company that provides training for its staff but also offers that training at a cost to members of the public should be aware that they may be treading into territory controlled by rules and restrictions as well as related financial responsibilities, stringent financial security/bonding and audit requirements.

The intent of the legislation is to prevent the development of fly-by-night schools purporting to offer
training programs in the private sector. Pursuant to the registration requirements found in s.14 PCCA,
organizations must meet specific requirements covering financial responsibility, honesty and integrity — and satisfy the Superintendent under the legislation to legitimately operate as a private college.

The minute that training is fanned out to the public at a cost, the organization can be in violation of
the PCCA. To steer clear of the danger zones, businesses should be aware of the legislation, its
requirements and exemptions.

Many exemptions have evolved by custom and are immortalized in Ministry “Fact Sheets,” and these are typically the most important exemptions for corporate training institutions. You won’t find them in the
statute itself.

Pre-screen to verify

The best way to confirm that an organization is not in violation of the PCCA and may be exempted from registering as a college is to file a “pre-screening form” with the Ministry.

Similar to an advance tax ruling, the Ministry can issue a notice indicating that the program is not subject to the regulations, which provides the organization with cover should the question be raised in the future. As an aside, an organization that uses the words “university” or “degree” requires Ministerial consent under provincial legislation as a degree-granting institution.

So, what specifically are the other exceptions above and beyond the hourly and monetary thresholds for organizations wishing to be independent of those rules? They include:

  • Third-party programming: If a company engages or pays another company to provide the training, the company is not regulated by the PCCA. An example of this exemption is when a company pays to fly employees to a 10-week program provided by an outside party at a cost of $10,000.
  • Single-skill training: If the training is related to elevating workplace skills, such as keyboarding or first aid, it is not considered to be intended for vocational outcomes. It becomes exempt because that training is considered a subset of another job.
  • Religious training: Programs providing instruction for work or religious vocation need not be exclusively offered by a church or religious organization to qualify for the exemption.
  • Professional development and skills upgrade: A course that is directly tied to the job or profession is exempt, such as estate planning for paralegals.
  • Language training: This is generally exempt because it’s considered personal advancement. Although programs that lead to vocations, such as Teaching English as a Second Language (“TESL”) training are not exempt.

Get familiar with the legislation

The best approach for any company to stay under the government’s radar is to ensure they are familiar with the legislation, and to use an expert to pre-screen their proposed programs.

If a program qualifies for an exemption from regulation under the PCCA, it means the organization doesn’t have to register under the legislation to operate the education programs, whether they are a component of their business, or it is their business.

Look forward to your comments, criticisms, and feedback! Thanks for reading.