CELA reaches out to ECEC community to learn more about combating workforce issues
While Community Early Learning Australia (CELA) is excited about the opportunity presented by recent state and federal announcements in relation to early childhood education and care (ECEC), the peak body has real concerns about the workforce needed to service the changes.
CELA and like-minded peaks ELAA and CCC highlighted the workforce crisis in its 2021 report “Investing in our Future: Growing the Education and Care Workforce”. Since the advent of the report the crisis has become ‘even more dire’ as a ‘depleted and fatigued’ workforce endured significant COVID-related disruptions.
Demand for places, alongside staff absences due to COVID-19 and other illnesses, professional fatigue and caring for sick family members, are impacting services’ capacity to operate.
“In order to secure the success of these new reforms, it’s vital that retention and recruitment strategies are implemented,” Michele Carnegie, CELA CEO said.
“There are many and varied reasons that our workforce is in crisis, and while remuneration is one factor, there needs to be a broad range of strategies applied to start fixing the underlying causes now.”
CELA recently contacted members to conduct an Early Childhood Education and Care Workforce Survey Pulse Check which revealed the key issues being faced by its members and highlighted the need to implement the urgent solutions the organisation is advocating for.
The CELA pulsechecks are conducted periodically to gather insights from members and the wider sector, with the most recent survey running between 3 and 15 June. 352 responses were received, of which most (72 per cent) were “stand alone” services from New South Wales, operating in the long day care sector, with a smattering of representatives from preschools, family day care and outside school hours care services.
Vacancies are up
The number of services with vacant positions is up on the last survey, which was conducted in January and February 2022.
In that survey 61 per cent of respondents had vacancies, whilst in the most recent survey this number had risen to 89 per cent of long day care services and 58 per cent of preschools, highlighting the depth of the issue.
Vacancies are spread across all qualification levels and are more acute than at the same time last year, when, as outlined in the joint Investing In Our Future report, just under half of services reported unfilled vacancies.
Vacancies are causing reductions in planning time, ratios, and the number of children able to attend. Services are managing the staff vacancies by reducing staff planning/administrative time (73 per cent), operating on ratio, instead of above (64 per cent) and bringing in agency/casual staff (60 per cent).
18 per cent of services have reported having to reduce the number of children who can attend.
Better pay and conditions
When asked what single policy intervention was most urgently needed to attract and retain staff just over half of the respondents (58 per cent) chose better pay and conditions. While the recent minimum wage raise will partially meet these concerns, the issue of pay parity between the ECEC and primary school system for qualified teachers remains an issue.
Other interventions such as government-funded retention payments, funding additional administrative staff to support overstretched leaders, and skilled migration were also supported.
Many respondents indicated that the administration burden within their role impacts on their job satisfaction, with one respondent describing them as “excessive, and not sustainable at all.”
Quality of training, perception of the sector impacting
Respondents made several comments about the quality of training, and their concerns about the poor quality of graduates from TAFE and university adding to the pressure on existing teams.
Many also commented on how low community perceptions of ECEC have contributed to the workforce shortage. As a result of the feedback from members three case studies were prepared, which may be accessed here.
CELA intends to use this data to communicate with state and federal ministers over the coming weeks and call for the implementation of strategies which will improve retention, motivate qualified educators to return and attract new educators to enter the sector with suitable professional support in the early stages of their career.
“We are standing on the precipice of a bright new age where all children can access high-quality early education and care, and women can participate to the extent they wish to in the paid workforce. A time when families can be comfortable in the knowledge that their children are receiving a high-quality educational experience by qualified and caring educators who know them well,” Ms Carnegie said.
“This will only be possible if a qualified, well-paid, and professionally supported workforce is available to meet the demand. We are confident that in NSW, the Early Years Commitment has the potential to deliver if early education workforce issues are addressed as a priority.”
This piece has been prepared based on original coverage from the CELA team, which may be accessed here.
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