Could a rethink about overseas student policy be a solution for ECEC workforce shortages?
The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Sector.
Educator shortages are being felt with greater bite across the early childhood sector for a number of reasons.
Planning applications for new services lodged with local councils continue to rise, resulting in many new sites being constructed and opened, often in areas that are already well serviced with existing centres.
Furthermore, there has been a steady departure of educators working in the childcare sector for a whole host of reasons.
The resultant outcome is the current cohort of educators graduating and entering the workforce through TAFE’s, RTO’s and other institutions is unable to satisfy the growing number of educators required with the gap constantly widening.
At a service level, the challenge of meeting required ratios with high calibre staff is very much being felt already, with service operators who are using employment search platforms or who are engaging recruitment agencies to source permanent and casual staff sharing anecdotal evidence of an acute shortage of candidates.…an educator crisis.
Notwithstanding the solid number of new educators commencing childcare qualification training, the attrition rate through non completion remains alarmingly high….in Victoria, we understand around 60 per cent of those who commence course training actually dropout before completion.
This shortfall in available educators may increase further when the new training package starts to be delivered across the country, with completion of a Diploma which currently takes 12-18 months being extended to 2-3 years as the Certificate III becomes a prerequisite for undertaking the Diploma.
Nevertheless, with the pending implementation of mandatory vaccinations for educators currently working in long day care services and students pursuing childcare qualifications in Victoria, which may well be followed in other states, the sector may have even more educators and students unable to be employed or not enter the sector as a consequence of their rightful choice to not be vaccinated.
This is likely to further exacerbate the Victorian, and other states and territories following similar policies, educator shortage.
An opportunity for lateral thinking – Rethinking overseas student intake policies
The shortages, however, may provide another opportunity for some lateral thinking on where eager emerging ECEC professionals may be found.
Currently there are a number of international students entering Australia and undertaking full time studies through CRICOS registered RTO’s in order to obtain their Early Childhood Teacher (ECT) qualifications which also gives them an approved pathway to applying for Permanent Residency.
The importance of this pathway cannot be overstated and has helped attract ECT talent from around the world to plug our shortages here in Australia.
The question is could this pathway be extended to Certificate III and Diploma qualifications too?
A long day care service would generally employ around ten Certificate III and Diploma qualified staff for each ECT they require, and it’s finding these non ECT educators that is the major hurdle to overcome right now.
Could we therefore consider broadening the current CRICOS regulated system, or even bypassing it all together, to allow fully vaccinated and financially independent international students to enter Australia, undertake fee for service Diploma training whilst working full time in the sector, with the sweetener being they could apply for Permanent Residency when they have successfully completed their studies and worked for a requisite period of time such as two years?
This policy initiative could be undertaken by the Federal Government as a 12-24 month pilot programme to be implemented by RTOs and may provide an immediate fix to the educator shortage we are experiencing by providing a new crop of students who can do full time work, or as close to full time work that is feasible, and study at the same time without there being any financial burden placed on the Federal Government.
With international borders hopefully opening from early 2022, this may go some way to solving the educator shortage problem…its at least worth further consideration.