Unpacking the latest ECEC National Workforce Census - A look at the actual breakdown of educators in ECEC
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Unpacking the latest ECEC National Workforce Census – A look at the actual breakdown of educators in ECEC

by Jason Roberts

August 30, 2022

The latest National Workforce Census was recently released, giving valuable insight into the actual state of the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector at a time when shortages continue to impact daily operations for many providers. 


This piece aims to highlight some key high level trends to support a better understanding of the current ECEC educator workforce composition using the data contained within this latest census, and those conducted in 2016, 2013 and 2010.  


The NWC is usually conducted every three years but due to the introduction of the child care subsidy (CCS) system and then the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic the most recent edition was delayed.  


The data for the 2021 census was gathered across all settings and jurisdictions in two reference weeks in April and May 2021. 


Growth in centre based service workforce handily outstrips that of other settings


As of 2021 the total number of educators working across the five key settings of long day care (LDC), family day care (FDC), outside school hours care (OSHC), in home care and vacation care was 216,619, up 11 per cent compared to the last census in 2016 and 72 per cent compared to 2013. 


However, the LDC component, also referred to as centre based care in the report, saw far more rapid growth with a 34 per cent jump in educators since the last census. LDC now accounts for 68 per cent of all educators employed in the sector, up from just 56 per cent in 2016. 



The 34 per cent increase in the LDC workforce between 2016 and 2021, and 92 per cent between 2013 and 2021 is substantial but notably the number of new LDC services opening in Australia has not grown at the same pace, with a 20 per increase since 2016 and just 35 per cent since 2013. 


The mismatch between workforce expansion and centre expansion can be explained by a gradual shift to larger centres, an increased regulatory requirements and to some degree a high degree of casualisation across workforces however the growth differential between the two remains significant. 


ECT’s flat line, Diploma qualified educators jump, Cert’s slump


The qualifications mix across the ECEC sector as measured by the NWC shows three distinct trends with Early Childhood Teachers (ECTs) flat lining, Diploma qualified educators jumping and Certificate III’s, having shown strong growth across 2010, 2013 and 2016, tapering off. 


As at 2021 the relative size of the Diploma qualified workforce is substantial but a lack of traction in the growth of ECT’s and the more recent falls in the number of Cert III’s is a real concern.  



When looking solely at the LDC setting it is clear it has had more success in growing its stock of ECT’s and Certificate qualified team members with steady increases since 2013, but overall they have not been able to keep up with the surge in Diploma qualified educators now working in the sector. 



Another interesting metric that might raise concerns about upskilling appetite is the percentage of all educators currently not studying which increased to 76 per cent in 2021, up from 73 per cent in 2016 and 67 per cent in 2013. 


Although it is welcome to see the growth in Diploma qualified educators across the sector, without similar growth in ECT’s and Cert III, regardless of overall sector employee growth, the broader sector’s current workforce shortages are likely to remain a critical challenge. 


Under 30’s still dominant ECEC workers but over 55’s also seen growth


As sector employee numbers have increased it is clear that those aged under 30 years of age are the largest cohort in the ECEC sector with participation gradually falling to the 50 to 54 year old cohort before rising again with the 55 year old and above employees. 



Despite the clear increase in absolute numbers the relative proportions of each age group have remained stable over the course of the last three censuses. 


39 per cent of educators are currently below 30 years old, down from 40 per cent in 2016 and 41 per cent in 2013. 36 per cent of educators are above 40 years old, the same as in 2016 and slightly lower than 2013. 


These statistics do not imply at this juncture that the ECEC workforce is “aging” in a disproportionate manner, which is an encouraging development amongst some of the other less positive trends. 


Other key highlights:


Other key highlights from this years census include:


  • The ECEC sector continues to be overwhelmingly a female sector accounting for 92.1 per cent of all workers. The LDC sector currently has 95.9 per cent of its workforce registered as female. 
  • First Nations workers now account for 2.9 per cent of workforce, up from 1.8 per cent in 2013
  • 57 per cent of all LDC workers are paid Award wages, with two per cent paid 25 per cent above award
  • 25 per cent of Cert III educators were studying for a Diploma, but just eight per cent of Diploma educators were studying for a Bachelor Degree or above
  • Training to strengthen pedagogy or practice was the dominant form of professional development undertaken with 27.7 per cent of all educators, and 31.2 per cent of LDC educators participating during the census period
  • 11.5 per cent of LDC and 11.9 per cent of OSHC workers with relevant ECE qualifications had 10 years plus experience in the sector
  • 3.8 per cent of all children attending LDC were Indigenous across Australia with 14.2 per cent in Northern Territory and 1.9 per cent in Victoria. 


The latest 2021 NWC report, with data tables, can be found on the Department of Education, Skills and Employment website

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