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Programming boot camp investigated by education officials

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A Toronto company that trains web developers has suspended its operations after Ontario education officials said it was being investigated for running an unregistered career college.

Bitmaker Labs Inc., which offers an intense nine-week training program, was visited two weeks ago by investigators from the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. The officials told the firm it was being looked at because it offered a vocational program that cost more than $1,000 and provided more than 40 hours of training – the cutoff point for registration – co-founder Matt Gray said.

"To them, that fits the bill of a private career college," he added, despite the fact "we have never claimed to be accredited, or marketed ourselves as a college or anything like that."

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The company doesn't issue grades or provide diplomas, certificates or degrees. Bitmaker Labs is essentially a "programming boot camp" modelled after a similar setup in San Francisco, Mr. Gray said.

After speaking to advisers, Bitmaker Labs decided to suspend its operations, or it might be subject to a cease-and-desist order and significant fines. Forty-two students who were in the middle of a course – and had paid $7,000 each for the program – were told their training was suspended.

Mr. Gray said the company will attempt to start up again and offer single-skill courses on specific programming subjects – which can be done without a full license – while it navigates the complex process of getting accreditation as private career college.

He said it is unfortunate that his company's program, which has helped a lot of people get jobs in web development, is now in jeopardy. About 80 per cent of the last cohort of students that completed training at Bitmaker Labs managed to find jobs, or they started businesses of their own, he said.

While he is mindful that the ministry is trying to protect students, it is actually damaging their prospects, Mr. Gray said. "I understand that there are probably a lot of fly-by-night schools out there that in the past have ripped people off, but in this case we are here long term and [we want] to help bring technology to Toronto and to Canada."

The ministry issued a statement late Monday saying: "Ontario's Superintendent of Private Career Colleges is conducting an independent inquiry into the program offered by Bitmaker Labs. No determination has been made regarding the program, no enforcement action has been taken against Bitmaker Labs and the ministry has not requested that Bitmaker Labs cease offering its program."

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About the Author
Reporter, Report on Business

Richard Blackwell has reported on Canadian business for more than three decades. At the Financial Post and the Globe and Mail he has covered technology, transportation, investing, banking, securities and media, among many other subjects. Currently, his focus is on green technology and the economy. More

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