Several recent studies indicate Australia’s early childhood sector is at a crisis point, with staff shortages the biggest concern, journalist Sue Osborne writes.
New figures from the federal Department of Education revealing 11 percent of early learning centres need special permission to open due to staffing shortages, highlights the acute workforce crisis in the sector.
A December 2021 search on the Seek website found the number of job vacancies in Australia for early childhood educators was 6999, and for early childhood teachers 7212.
For a workforce of about 150,000 this is an extremely high vacancy rate of 9.5 percent of the total national workforce.
The HESTA 2021 State of the Sector report found early childhood teachers love their job and where they work, yet many are looking to move on, mainly due to the low wages and poor prospects.
Despite being more likely to recommend their employer, nearly half of early childhood education and care (ECEC) professionals wouldn’t advocate pursuing a career in the sector, according to The State of the Sector 2021: Early Childhood Education and Care Workforce Insights report.
Looking at the working experience and attitudes of HESTA members reveals the industry – already facing chronic workforce shortages – faces significant challenges attracting and retaining talent.
Almost one in five ECEC professionals surveyed said they were considering leaving the industry within two years. Among the biggest issues were dissatisfaction with wages, feeling unappreciated by the community for their role as early educators, and a lack of opportunities for career development,
The research did find positive sentiment across arange of measures related to how ECEC professionalsfelt about their employers, with 87 percent saying theyfelt somewhat or strongly supported by their employers during COVID.
However, this didn’t flow through to a greater willingness to advocate for working in the sector. Although 42 percent of respondents said they’d strongly recommend working for their employer, 43 percent were strong detractors when it came to recommending a career in the industry. Less than a third of respondents said they would strongly recommend a career in the industry.
“This research shows the big gap between how professionals feel about where they work and whether they see a long-term career in the industry,” HESTA CEO Debby Blakey said.
“It’s great to see individual employers stepping up and supporting their employees, but unless the broader issues of low pay, a lack of development opportunities and community perception are addressed, the industry will face a chronic shortage of skilled professionals.”
In a 2019 workforce report on the future of the ECEC workforce, the independent Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) forecast the sector would need 39,000 more educators by 2023 – a 20 percent increase in the workforce.