Free kindergarten and pre-prep just showcases staffing issues, ECKA says
The Sector > Economics > Affordability & Accessibility > Free kindergarten and pre-prep just showcases staffing issues, ECKA says

Free kindergarten and pre-prep just showcases staffing issues, ECKA says

by Freya Lucas

July 25, 2022

Ballarat kindergarten providers Y Ballarat and Eureka Community Kindergarten Association (ECKA) have expressed concern that Victoria-wide reforms that will increase free kindergarten hours for three and four-year-olds will only exacerbate existing staffing issues in the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector. 

 

Y Ballarat Executive Manager of Children’s Services Vicki Dobson told the ABC that a huge shift in community attitude will be required to attract enough skilled workers to meet demand, calling for societal change and recognition of the value of early education, which “must be separated from concepts of workforce participation and economy for it to be valued in it’s own right.” 

 

“There is no doubt that these are added benefits to a strong and embedded quality early education system,” Ms Dobson said, “but there must be a societal shift in valuing and recognising early education, and being aware that this, in its own right, is what will drive better pay and conditions, not its ability to get others into work.”

 

Despite the presence of powerful incentives from the Victorian government, including $9,000 for eligible qualified ECTs working outside the sector to take up a teaching role at any service, and up to $50,000 for hard-to-staff services, particularly in rural and regional locations, providers are finding it challenging to secure staff. 

 

Both Y Ballarat and Eureka Community Kindergarten Association (ECKA) have found that focusing on local traineeships has delivered them the best staffing results so far, with both providers noting “little to no uptake” of cash incentives to entice metropolitan workers to the regions.

 

Y Ballarat’s Vicki Dobson said a key part of their strategy was to work closely with local governments and encourage local people into traineeships.

 

ECKA has trainees at their Ballan, Beaufort, and Trentham kindergartens, and also provides training opportunities to current and prospective staff, while Y Ballarat works closely with local governments to encourage local people into traineeships.

 

“We also look at being attractive as an employer,” said ECKA Chief Executive Jo Geurts.

 

“We have employed people externally and put them through traineeships, and then supported them to gain a qualification or higher qualification.”

 

The impact of the staffing shortages is starting to bite in the region, with Ararat Childcare and Kinder Retreat unable to recruit a qualified teacher and therefore not able to offer a kindergarten program. Staffing shortages are also being felt in the long day care side of the service. 

 

“We have about eight staff members now, but if a couple of us are off sick or our children are unwell and we have to take time off, we do struggle to find someone to take over,” Educator Sharie Birch said.

 

Despite the incentives and potential rise in pay, Ms Birch said she wouldn’t consider upskilling to become an ECT because her workload is high, her days are draining, and the pay in the sector is low. 

 

Ms Geurts believes that the low wages are a barrier to attracting new workers to the sector.

 

“I believe paying people the right level of wages for the important job they are doing is critical,” Ms Geurts said. “This needs to be addressed in the short term so we can attract people to these jobs.”

 

While ECEC providers are free to choose what wages they pay their staff, disparities in how this is implemented have lead to staff poaching and high competition, she said. 

 

“The recognition through pay and conditions will only come when we have recognition from the whole society of the value of early childhood education,” Ms Dobson said.

 

Infrastructure will need support

 

Ms Geurts said that infrastructure could also be a barrier to the roll out of 30 hours of pre-prep from 2025, and that ECKA would currently not have the space to run 30-hours-a-week of four-year-old-kindergarten.

 

“We won’t be able to take on a much greater workforce until there are more buildings and rooms for us to run these 30-hour kindergartens,” she told the ABC.

 

To access the original coverage of this story, please see here

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