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Colleges and institutes across the country have been rallying to join the COVID-19 response; for example, by advancing the graduation of qualified paramedics.iStockPhoto / Getty Images

Nightly applause – a practice that spread from Italy throughout the world – shows an increased recognition and appreciation of the contribution of frontline staff during the COVID-19 pandemic. Denise Amyot, president and CEO of Colleges and Institutes Canada (CICan), believes the educational institutions that train many of our essential workers also deserve a tribute.

“If you experience a medical emergency, you will probably encounter half a dozen people with college or institute training before you see the doctor; for example, the paramedics, reception staff and nurses,” she explains. Technical support personnel, such as X-ray and blood test technicians and respiratory therapists, are also likely to be college graduates.

“Just in the health care and biosciences sector, our colleges and institutes offer over 1,200 programs. In public safety and first response, we have over 430 programs,” says Ms. Amyot, who adds that a significant percentage of other essential workers, including those working in elder care and food production, have received their credentials at a college.

This contribution – along with valuable infrastructure and expertise – allows colleges and institutes across the country to play a leading role in responding to the current crisis. They have provided funding support, donated medical supplies and personal protective equipment, and more. Lambton College, for example, worked with community partner Bluewater Health to prepare an emergency field hospital on college premises.

At Loyalist College, nearly 20 paramedic students who completed their program requirements graduated early to help to mitigate Ontario’s paramedic shortage.

Fanshawe College’s respiratory therapy program and the College of Respiratory Therapists of Ontario worked together to allow 43 third-year Fanshawe students to begin putting their skills to work immediately. And in Winnipeg, Red River College delegated 14 students from its Health Information Management program to help with vital record keeping and tracking the spread of COVID-19.

Close links to community and industry partners – and a presence in more than 670 locations across Canada – enable colleges and institutes to achieve a significant impact, says Ms. Amyot. “Over 95 per cent of Canadians live within 50 kilometres of a college or institute campus or learning centre. There is no other network with such a footprint – and this enables our institutions to respond quickly to urgent needs.”

In addition to helping to alleviate the impact of the pandemic, colleges and institutes will also play an important role in the economic recovery by supporting businesses, communities and individual learners, suggests Ms. Amyot.

A wide variety of programs and courses – and many of them available online – provide Canadians with access to opportunities for acquiring new or updating existing skills and competencies, she says. “This range of options can help people from all backgrounds and circumstances meet their educational goals and cope with changing economic realities.”

Produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved in its creation.