Why using the word ‘industry’ to describe the work of ECEC may be harmful
The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Sector.
Referring to the complex, layered, emotionally heavy and precise work that educators and leaders do each day as part of the early childhood profession as “being in the industry” evokes a range of reactions, spanning from none to enraged. Below is a piece of critical reflection about the power of word choices, and how they affect the professional image of those working in early childhood.
Beginning at the beginning, the definition of industry is “economic activity concerned with the processing of raw materials and manufacture of goods in factories”. Early childhood education and care (ECEC) settings are many things – explorative, exciting, engaging, warm, filled with rich, responsive and respectful relationships.
One thing they are not, however, is factories. While the word industry may have been morphed by the general public to become a catch all for any and every profession, surely ECEC professionals are the best people to advocate for a word like “sector” or “profession” to be used to describe the work done with children and families?
Consider the following statements, all of which have been freely and publicly shared on ECEC social media pages:
“Childcare isn’t what it used to be. There are so many ridiculous laws and legislation we have to follow. After working in the industry for a few years I want to change careers”
“I love the childcare industry, but I’m also a social worker by profession. That’s a profession and I’m sorry, they don’t compare”
“I’ve decided to leave this industry. I’m just fed up with lazy people who don’t do their share of work as they’d rather sit and gossip”
“Am I the only one finding that our industry is filled with people who think like a babysitter not an educator?”
Viewed by those external to the sector, the statements above do not paint the work undertaken each day with children in a very positive light. Read the statements above, and replace the ECEC sector with an admired and well compensated profession, such as medicine or law.
Can you imagine heart surgeons taking to a public forum to gripe about gossipy co-workers? Would lawyers join a Facebook group to complain about laws and regulations? How might you feel if your grandmother’s aged care worker shared their complaints publicly about “ridiculous laws and legislation” designed to keep her safe?
A number of prominent academics have explored the dynamics of professionalism in the early years sector, speaking of the ongoing challenges of ECEC to be viewed as more than simply “nice ladies who love children”.
A core component of shifting this perception comes from within the sector itself.
When educators refer to the care elements of ECEC, omitting education, they reinforce public perception that those who devote their careers to the early years simply exist to “wipe noses and stop the kids from killing each other”.
When those within the profession reduce educating and caring for children to mental images of a factory floor with terms such as “industry” and “on the floor”, they tell those outside the profession a story of assembly lines, and of lovely days spent playing with children, as shown in the parody video below (please note, the video does contain one expletive. Please be mindful of this when watching)
Language has power. Speaking, writing and reading are integral to everyday life, where language is the primary tool for expression and communication. Studying how people use language – what words and phrases they unconsciously choose and combine – can help us better understand ourselves and why we behave the way we do.
Using language more mindfully, such as making a simple switch from using the word “industry” to using the word “sector” or “profession” can, if done collectively, be a significant step in the elevation of the ECEC sector.