Is there an alternative to addressing workforce shortages in the ECEC sector?
The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Sector.
It is well known that the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector is concerned about workforce shortages, hiring and retaining staff, and paying competitive salaries, with advocacy groups lobbying for parity pay for early childhood teachers in the lead up to the Australian Federal election. But is there a way that ECEC providers can address the issue irrespective of the outcome of the election?
The Commonwealth Bank’s Early Learning Insights December 2018 report surveyed 176 ECEC providers, and found that 55 per cent saw wage pressures as a key threat to the sector, while 27 per cent reported finding staff as an issue, and 24 per cent saw access to quality staff as a sector-wide threat.
The workforce issues are driven by a misalignment of sector stakeholder interests. ECEC services often operate at a low profit margin, with employee salaries making up the majority of expenses. Pressures from parents to keep fees affordable compete with the pressure of providing competitive salaries to retain qualified staff. Added to this, ECEC businesses are vulnerable to changes in government funding.
Aligning these interests would be a significant challenge and would require increased government funding in order to attract and retain a quality, professional workforce. The latest Federal Budget emphasises one aspect of this misalignment, as the lack of funding for the Universal Access to Early Childhood Education program beyond 2020 leaves ECEC services with uncertainty around long-term planning and investment in staff.
Leaders and advocacy groups in the sector have been lobbying for years around these very issues and are doing an admirable job, but in the absence of government co-operation, there may be an alternative to relieve some of the workforce pressure points.
Changing the ‘agency mindset’
ECEC services often rely on recruitment agencies to find permanent and casual staff. While a necessity for many services, it is a costly approach. Thinking outside the box, a feasible solution for those in the ECEC sector is to work collaboratively to change services’ mindset around the casual staffing model and reliance on agencies.
After consultation with the sector, we set out to do this, creating Talent Now, an on-demand casual staffing platform built specifically for the ECEC sector. The aim of the platform is to alleviate some of the biggest issues in the sector – finding staff and relieving cost pressures – by challenging the status quo.
Talent Now aims to solve staffing challenges by using a unique model to reduce services’ reliance on agencies by combining shift matching technology with recruitment services. A key difference between Talent Now and agency services is that ECEC centres pay educators directly, which means no agency fees. Providers can then direct savings back into wages, professional development or centre resources.
Vicious circle or virtuous circle? The philosophy
The Early Years Learning Framework upholds the values of community. Services work to create a sense of community and belonging for children, families and staff. But do our communities really extend beyond the front gate, or are services working in silos when it comes to staffing?
Although Talent Now sources educators for centres, central to its philosophy, is the idea that if everyone contributes to build a robust talent pool, then the entire community benefits. The Talent Now business model creates a virtuous circle – educators need jobs, centres need staff, and our community is enabled by technology – removing the middle man.
One of the concerns centres have is around sharing their casual pool of trusted staff.
Centres work hard to build a reliable pool, and they fear losing them. Our experience has proven the opposite. We have seen centres sign up with a handful of educators on their books, but in no time that pool has grown from 4 to 40.
Staffing is fluid, no matter how much centres would love their casuals to stick around, the reality is casual educators constantly move between permanent work, study, parenting and other demands. Talent Now keeps the casual pool topped up and does not impose buy-outs and other limitations on centres or casual staff.
We imagine a world where these pressure points are no longer an issue for the sector and our centres and educators can focus on what they do best – educating our children.
More information can be found on the Talent Now website.