ECEC peaks warn of looming staffing and skills crisis after recent study

ECEC peaks warn of looming staffing and skills crisis after recent study

by Freya Lucas

November 26, 2021

Australia’s early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector is facing a staffing and skills crisis, a recent study from three leading education and care peak bodies has revealed.

 

The report is based on a survey of members representing over 3300 sites, and was prepared by Community Early Learning Australia (CELA), Early Learning Association Australia (ELAA) and Community Child Care (CCC). 

 

Over 4,500 vacancies had been advertised in the first six months of 2021, researchers learnt, with nearly half of all job vacancies in education and care settings remaining unfilled. 

 

Poor pay and conditions and lack of qualified applicants were named as key reasons for these shortages, with half of all services participating sharing that they have experienced greater staff turnover since COVID-19 commenced – a situation made worse by a lack of casuals and staff leaving the sector.

 

In response to the crisis over half of all services made changes to service delivery in addition to reducing quality by dropping back to ‘at ratio’ delivery, and asking staff to work additional hours. 

 

Investing in our future: Growing the education and care workforce reinforces the need for urgent action to address workforce issues in education and care services and raises concerns about the impact of COVID-19 on workforce retention, and the numerous challenges faced by high quality services supporting parents and carers as they return to the workplace. 

 

It also warns that national demand for educators is expected to increase by 11 per cent and for early childhood teachers by 17 per cent by 2025, figures well above the national projected employment growth of 7.8 per cent for all occupations for the same period. 

 

Victoria alone requires 4000 additional educators and 2000 new teachers by 2029. 

 

“We know COVID-19 has impacted the sector greatly,” CELA CEO Michele Carnegie said. 

 

“There is increased exhaustion on top of the need to test and isolate which has led to increasing shortages in an already depleted workforce. Without suitable government intervention, we will soon see the result of a competing labour market, with increased staffing costs passed on in higher fees for parents.” 

CCC Executive Director Julie Price said that one of the more concerning outcomes of the report was that children’s children’s services have been forced to sacrifice quality or limit their enrolments to respond to chronic staff shortages. 

 

“Around one in five children’s services had closed a room or the entire service at least once a term,” she shared. 

 

Despite the challenges posed by the findings, authors believe that change is possible, pointing to the recently agreed Victorian agreement for kindergartens, the Victorian Early Childhood Teacher and Educators Agreement (VECTEA), which provides early years teachers with a comparable salary and conditions to school teachers, as an incentive model which demonstrates what is possible with financial support from Governments. 

 

To address the ongoing issues, authors recommend the introduction of a range of funded strategies across the country including:  

 

  • Scholarships and financial incentives  
  • Commitment to and funding pay and conditions that secures and retains educators and teachers 
  • Supporting improvements in the quality of training  
  • Prioritising early childhood for skilled migration 

 

Ultimately the authors conclude that national action is needed to increase the pool of staff across the country, including a commitment to funding the key strategies recommended in the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) Workforce Strategy

 

“We know there is good practice happening in places but this needs to be scaled across Australia, and funded,” ELAA CEO David Worland said. 

 

“We will need tens of thousands of additional staff across our sector nationally. We can’t keep on sourcing staff from the same limited labour pool – we need to train, develop and grow a new generation of well-paid professionals.” 

 

To access the report in full please see here

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