Even in Finland, ECEC struggles with workforce shortages and ECT challenges
Challenges in finding sufficiently qualified and available educators to fill required roles in early childhood education and care (ECEC) services around Australia have been widely shared by leaders, owners and managers throughout the sector.
The challenges are particularly evident when it comes to the recruitment of early childhood teachers (ECTs), with ACECQA extending transitional measures in response to persistent recruitment issues sector wide.
Given that Nordic countries, and Finland in particular, are often held up to the Australian sector as examples of best practice, readers may be interested in learning more about work being undertaken by the City of Helsinki, as it too struggles with workforce shortages in its ECEC services.
Current estimates state that the Helsinki Metropolitan Area will need 3,200 new ECEC experts with a higher education degree by 2030 in order to meet demand. With long standing ECEC recruitment challenges for the city, how are policy makers planning to meet the target?
While there are many reasons for the challenges in finding sufficient numbers of employees, a spokesperson for the City said, this also means there are many solutions, which the City is exploring in cooperation with the University of Helsinki.
“The sector must take care of its existing capable staff, but the sector is also in dire need of new experts and an increase in the sector’s attractiveness. Additionally, the current staff must be trained according to the Act on Early Childhood Education and Care, which was reformed in 2018,” the spokesperson said.
One major solution around retention? Organising training that allows existing motivated ECEC employees to obtain the qualifications required to become an ECEC teacher.
In mid-June, the Ministry of Education and Culture decided on a one-time grant of EUR 31 million for continuous learning, intended to boost employment, equality and the availability of capable labour throughout the country. Some of this funding was allocated to the Helsinki Metropolitan Area for training that allows ECEC employees with different backgrounds to obtain the qualifications required to become an ECEC teacher.
The funding was hoped to have been used to organise roughly 80 study places, divided into multiform training for Bachelors and Masters of Arts (Education) as well as qualification training for child carers (sic.) in ECEC, among other things.
Within the City of Helsinki alone, the number of applicants interested in qualification training exceeded the number of places available “many times over”, illustrating that demand for professional development and upskilling within the sector is strong.
The University of Helsinki received sufficient funding with its own application, but the funding applications submitted together with other universities were not as successful, and only roughly half of the study places applied for will be realised, the spokesperson said.
“The sufficiency of staff in Swedish-language ECEC has reached such a critical level in Helsinki that the City has been forced to assign some Swedish-speaking families to a temporary placement in Finnish-language ECEC. However, the ministry did not grant funding for Swedish-language qualification training to the University of Helsinki.”
Deputy Mayor for Education Pia Pakarinen and colleague Rector Sari Lindblom from the University of Helsinki said the multiform training and retraining channels in ECEC “require long-term funding sufficient in volume in order for the change in the staff structure and staff shortage to also be solved in this respect”.
“This should be more visible in future decision-making by the ministry. The direction is right, but the volume and speed must be increased,” they added.
More information about the work undertaken by the City in ECEC may be found here.