Momentum for educator pay, conditions and support change reinforced in Productivity Commission Report
The Productivity Commission (PC) has released the draft report from its inquiry into the Australian early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector in which it calls out that progress towards universal access “hinges” on the availability of educators.
With the successful implementation of universal access to ECEC potentially being threatened by an ongoing shortage of educators and teachers the PC spends a great deal of time unpacking the current state of the ECEC workforce before making a series of recommendations on measures that would work towards alleviating pressures.
This piece examines five areas key areas called out by the report which are likely to have a direct impact on current and prospective early childhood educators and teachers.
1. Educator pay and conditions
“Higher wages and better conditions are likely to reduce attrition rates and attract more staff to ECEC,” the report notes, with the PC indicating that the matter is likely to be addressed via the enterprise bargaining process currently underway between Unions, Employers and more recently the Government.
It is well understood that educator pay increases that are not funded by the Government would add unsustainable costs to providers, and to families through higher fees, a position that the PC re-emphasised in its report before highlighting, not incorrectly, that there will be substantial pressure on Governments to fund the wage increases.
2. Reduce barriers to educator upskilling
Around 5 per cent of centre based ECEC educators were studying towards an ECT qualification in 2021, a level that is not considered high enough to meet increased demand levels now or after steps were taken towards universal access in the future.
The report encouraged Governments to work with universities and the sector to develop and promote accelerated degree programs and to provide financial support to ECEC services to help pay for paid study leave or other requirements of their courses.
In addition, support could include assistance to navigate enrolment processes, assistance to build academic skills, and regular mentoring, with the latter considered a priority focus by the Commission.
3. Support to encourage innovative delivery of teaching qualifications
The ‘traditional’ approach to training ECTs requires students to enroll and attend a university and complete their studies in a largely academic environment but the PC notes that this doesn’t have to be the only way ECTs can qualify.
Examples of innovative approaches to qualification achievement are “in situ” or on-site teaching, where relatively more teaching or assessment is done in ECEC settings, and degree apprenticeship models that combine work and study creating an “earn and learn” study pathway.
4. Reduce barriers to accessing professional development opportunities
The PC recognise that although professional learning is highly desired by educators across the ECEC sector, costs to access, or costs to backfill staff, can sometimes be an impediment.
The report recommends that the Australian and state and territory governments provide support for the ECEC workforce to undertake professional development activities in the form of a contribution towards the cost of professional development which is happening to a degree with the introduction of the Professional Development Subsidy.
5. Australia’s migration policies limit employment of skilled migrants in ECEC
Current policy settings around skilled migration restrict the extent that the ECEC sector can employ skilled migrants with skill lists restricting lower skilled ECEC staff from many skilled visas and for migrants that are eligible under a skill list, the recent changes to the TSMIT will make it more expensive for the ECEC sector to recruit them.
Despite these factors the PC does not recommend any changes in these areas but instead highlights the use of labour agreements to enable approved businesses to sponsor skilled overseas workers when there is a demonstrated need that cannot be met in the Australian labour market as a possible mitigating initiative.
To review the workforce section of the Productivity Commission’s Interim Report on the ECEC sector please click the link and navigate to page 175.
In addition, an analysis of key observations and insights on the report can be found here.
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