KU Children’s Services were recently announced as an employer of choice at the Australian Business Awards for the fourth year running.
How does a not for profit children’s service hold its own against hundreds of commercial applicants to gain such an accolade across four consecutive years? KU Children’s Services CEO Chris Legg and General Manager of People Services and IT, Jane Robinson tell CELA the secret of their success.
The first thing Chris and Jane stress is that they see this award as a win for the whole early childhood profession: “Entering this award four years ago was a strategic decision to raise the profile and status of Early Childhood Education,” says CEO Chris Legg. “We actively looked for awards that we could enter outside the usual ones in our sector.”
The Employer of Choice Award recognises organisations which have developed leading workplaces that maximise the full potential of their workforce through practices that demonstrate effective employee recruitment, engagement and retention.
Jane and Chris say the original trigger to enter this award was realising how great their staff engagement metrics were. KU Board members said they wished their figures were that high in their own organisations.
KU’s retention rate is around 90 percent. Their staff engagement rate is the same and it improves every year.
Drilling down into what keeps staff so engaged, one key is the high degree of trust staff have in the organisation – over 90 percent of staff said they felt confident that if they raised an issue with management it would be appropriately addressed.
These results reflect the commitment, from the CEO down, to always put people first. “What’s best for children, families and staff is at the heart of everything we do,” says Chris.
This commitment to people shines through in their high staff remuneration – “We pay some of the highest salaries in the sector. We are working hard to bridge the gap in salaries between our early childhood teachers and their colleagues in schools and are gradually closing that gap,” says Chris.
It’s also evident in KU’s strong reward and recognition program, which includes the ‘KU Making the Difference’ awards for staff who go above and beyond in making a difference for children, families, staff, communities, and five additional categories.
One area that stands out for staff is the quality of the professional development program and the support for career development.
What’s best for children, families and staff is at the heart of everything we do
Laure Hislop, Facilitator Early Education Professional Learning says, “I wouldn’t be in the role I’m currently in if it hadn’t been for KU’s professional learning program, and KUs commitment for all staff to engage in ongoing professional learning.”
Supporting health and safety of staff is another area where KU were judged to excel. “We have a very low injury rate,” says Jane, “because we do analysis on the cause of injuries and address trends.”
“For example, we noticed back injuries were an issue, due to lifting incorrectly. We’ve done extensive training with staff on lifting safely, and we’ve changed our standard specs for cots. We even had a Practice Manager who worked with a company to design our own hydraulic lift nappy change table for changing nappies that adjusts to the right height for each educator. Older children with disabilities who require nappies love it, they go for a ride!”
The key to winning the Employer of Choice Award in successive years is that they added a new stretch factor each year, explains Chris. “One year it was our diversity and inclusion framework and our strong support for marriage equality. We created a Diversity Working Party to develop ways to help people feel safe in the workplace, and able to deal with the range of attitudes to different families.”
Next year KU will add a wellness program into their workplace health and safety plan.
KU is also increasing their commitment to employ and support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
“We’re seriously committed to something bigger than a RAP (Reconciliation Action Plan). Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employee experience program is already transforming how we advertise for staff, how we interview them and how we prepare people for interviews.”
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What KU staff say
About the author
Carolin Wenzel writes about early childhood policy and is fascinated by the contribution quality early learning makes in improving children’s lives, supporting families and increasing social well being. Most recently she was the Campaigns and Media Manager with Early Childhood Australia, managing the Early Learning Everyone Benefits campaign.