There are warnings the childcare industry is facing chronic staffing shortages as the Government pushes ahead with ambitious targets on training and child-to-carer ratios.
By January next year, all childcare staff must have a Certificate III or Diploma, or be in the process of completing either of the qualifications.
There are also adjustments to staff-to-child ratios, which means many childcare centres are recruiting more staff.
And there are new requirements for the number of university-educated Early Childhood Teachers at centres, depending on the size of the operation.
The owner of Majura Park Childcare in Canberra has told the ABC she is being forced to hire overseas workers to fill the gap.
Natalie Colbert says she simply cannot find enough workers for her centre.
“It’s incredibly hard to find good staff at the moment,” she said.
“I’m always juggling staff because if I have someone who goes sick or on maternity leave or goes on holidays, then suddenly I’m trying to replace them.”
Of Ms Colbert’s staff of 28, seven are foreign staff – from the UK, Hong Kong and the Philippines.
“When I advertise and when I go to recruiting companies and do word of mouth, and I attend trade forums and work forums, and I still get no applicants for a position, it’s really quite amazing, particularly when you get 10 very good overseas applicants you can pick and choose from,” she said.
Matt Hodges from Australia’s biggest childcare recruiter, Ranstad Education, says the market for quality staff is extremely competitive.
“Every organisation is after the same early childhood teacher, or after someone with years of experience with Certificate III,” he said.
“Everyone’s after quality and so it’s very important that the industry does invest in learning and development so the quality of our educators working within the sector remains high.
“It’s competitive in terms of locations, so Canberra for example is very competitive.
“Organisations have very, very strong branding out there to be able to attract people to work for them. Offering employee branding is the number one thing to attract people [along with] work-life balance, job sharing, professional development, and also pay.
“The changes are going to prove some challenges for some states, some other states have been very organised and are prepared for it.
“It’s exciting times ahead for the industry, we will have some bumps along the way but it will be very exciting to see in five or 10 years time what the educational outcomes will be.”
Exodus of experienced childcare workers
Sam Page from Early Childhood Australia says the reforms are necessary.
“It’s really important that we have national quality standards for early childhood services,” Ms Page said.
“Previously we’ve had a mix and match approach across states and territories. We haven’t been able to ensure that every child across Australia, no matter which service they’re attending, gets a minimum level of quality in terms of education and care.
“The National Quality Framework gives that to us, it provides families with a level of confidence and it ensures children are getting the very best start in life.”
Ranstad Education says a large number of older workers will leave the industry rather than commit to retraining.
Sharon Smealie, 60, has been working casually in childcare for the past five years.
She has decided not to do the Certificate III, which means she will no longer be able to work in the sector.
“I was undecided for a long time, I didn’t know what to do because I found that I didn’t really want to go back to TAFE for 12 months and study something that I’d already been doing for five years satisfactorily,” she said.
“It was going to cost me several hundred dollars, or, if I did it privately, it was going to cost up to $2,000. So I decided not to do it.”
Mr Hodges says baby boomers in particular will be leaving the sector.
“The baby boomers are very important to the early childhood sector, they come with a lot of experience and a lot of knowledge,” he said.
“That knowledge is very important to pass down to the younger generation entering into the sector. So it is a concern if we do lose our baby boomers.”
He says some childcare organisations are supporting baby boomers through recognised prior learning schemes and by contributing to training costs.
Rewarding, flexible and supportive workplace environments
Carla Scalia finished her Bachelor of Early Childhood Education almost two years ago through Charles Sturt University and now works for the nation’s biggest childcare provider, Goodstart, a not-for-profit organisation which owns some 650 centres across Australia.
Ms Scalia says many people are not aware of the benefits for staff working in the sector.
She says she was able to return to work when her daughter was four months old because she had a very supportive working environment.
“The company’s been fabulous in regards to work shifts that make my work-life balance a lot easier. Same with the days, I have flexibility with the number of days I wish to do to ensure I could have that work-life balance as well,” she said.
“We have discounted fees for all educators that work for the company, but they’re especially good for those with university qualifications, so that’s made the financial gain that I get working back as a teacher definitely an added perk there.
“I do know that not all companies are the same, so it really does depend on where you work. But, in my case, absolutely, I think I would be financially better off working where I am now as an early childhood teacher than working in the school sector.”
Ms Scalia says she is aware of how much demand there is for university graduates, and many face the fortunate choice of being able to choose whether to work in a childcare centre or a primary school.
“I know definitely in early childhood there is unfortunately a shortage of university trained staff so I do know that the demand was definitely there for us in that regard,” she says.
“I can see that the school option would definitely be enticing, there would be no doubt about that.
“Obviously with the school terms and the different conditions it would definitely be something for staff to consider.
“For me because I guess I’m a mum of a young baby, I can bring my daughter to the same care facility that I’m teaching in and I get to be with her, but when she’s school age that will definitely be something to consider as well, to think about because obviously working those school terms the same day she goes to school makes life a lot easier.”
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Childcare industry facing staff shortages as Government pushes ahead with ambitious targets
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