Shortly after November 8, CELA ran a survey to gain insight into the impact of the mandatory vaccination Public Health Order on the ECEC workforce and service provision. The survey was circulated amongst our members and on social media. The responses provided valuable insights which have helped our advocacy around building and sustaining a high-quality workforce.
Out of 176 services based in NSW who responded, 62.5 per cent reported staffing had been impacted due to mandatory vaccination (note: this does not mean 62.5 per cent of all CELA members were impacted by the public health order, as those who were directly impacted were more likely to complete the survey. However, we can safely assume the impact is significant).
Of those who responded, there were 324 staff who were unable to attend work on November 8 due to their vaccination status.
What’s happening with these staff right now?
- 41 per cent on leave
- 35 per cent have resigned
- 18 per cent are able to allow staff to work from home, but mostly this doesn’t work due to the nature of the work
- 5 per cent have been stood down
Services are managing the shortages by:
- Trying to recruit new staff (61%) — which is time-consuming and costly
- Engaging casual staff (58%)
- Combining rooms or groups of children (28%)
- Reducing ratio of staff to children (21%)
- Reducing the number of children able to attend the service (19%), meaning parents aren’t able to work as education and care is not available
Of the 324 staff who were unable to attend work on 8 November due to vaccination status, the spread of qualifications was relatively even across Certificate III, Diploma and Bachelor (35 per cent Certificate III, 39 per cent Diploma and 22 per cent Bachelor).
Location, location, location
Of the 176 services who responded, 60 per cent of those located in metropolitan areas reported that mandatory vaccination had impacted staffing and 52.5 per cent reported that they had staff vacancies.
In major regional towns, 61.9 per cent reported mandatory vaccination had impacted staffing, and 56.4 per cent had staff vacancies.
In rural and remote communities, 68.2 per cent reported that mandatory vaccination had impacted on staffing, and 58.1 per cent reported having staff vacancies.
This data confirms other research indicating that staff shortages are more acute in services outside of metropolitan areas, compounding disadvantage for children and families the further from the city they live1.
There is still a workforce shortage — even for those services without vaccine hesitant educators
Of the one-third of respondents who reported that mandatory vaccination had not impacted their staffing, 27 per cent reported having staff vacancies. This reinforces data collected in the middle of this year in collaboration with two other peak bodies, Early Learning Association of Australia (ELAA) and Community Child Care (CCC), culminating in the report “Investing in our Future: growing our education and care workforce”. If you haven’t seen it, you can read it here.
Vacancies are across all qualification levels
Respondents to the survey reported that 40 per cent of vacancies are at Certificate III level, 37 per cent at Diploma and 18 per cent at Bachelor level. The remainder were for positions like administration, gardening or other. This means our advocacy efforts will very much focus on ensuring reducing financial barriers for completing both VET and higher education early childhood education qualifications.
How do these results compare with other data available?
G8 Education group claimed in the Australian Financial Review that fewer than 1 per cent of their staff had quit their jobs because of a refusal to have a COVID-19 vaccine2. Nonetheless G8’s chief executive director has conceded that sourcing adequate staff is a “constant battle” and is lifting group wages by an average of 5 per cent for the group, with fee increases for families likely3.
Despite efforts from all types of early education and care services, workforce shortages are a significant problem, which have been exacerbated by the pandemic. The Mitchell Institute in October this year quoted Australian labour force data showing that vacancies in early childhood education and care are 50 per cent higher than pre-pandemic levels4.
CELA’s joint report with ELAA and CCC, “Investing in our Future: growing our education and care workforce” also highlights a serious workforce challenge exacerbated by the pandemic. The report, based on a survey conducted in the middle of the year with over 700 responses, found that nearly half of services found staff turnover had increased or greatly increased, with staff leaving the sector, a lack of access to casuals, mental health/exhaustion and needing to test and isolate being the leading factors contributing to increased staff turnover5.
Even without a pandemic, the workforce shortage in the education and care sector is long-standing, requiring all States, Territories and the Federal Government to develop a long-term strategy, led by ACECQA. This has culminated in the “Shaping our Future: a ten year strategy to ensure a high quality children’s education and care workforce” report. The report highlights that the sector will need an additional 16,000 educators (an 11 per cent increase) and 8,000 teachers (a 17 per cent increase) in order to meet expected demand over the next few years to November 20256.
This is in the context of a decline in the number of graduates in early childhood education care qualifications in the pipeline. In the period 2015 to 2018/2019, there has been a 13.3% decline in early childhood teacher enrolments and a 4.2% decline in vocational NQF approved qualifications enrolments. Only 60 per cent of students completed their qualification7.
What the sector is currently doing to support the workforce
For many of CELA’s members and the wider community sector, we know that pay and conditions for educators are better — the Australian Community Children’s Services Trends in Community Children’s Services Survey (TICCSS) reported in May that two-thirds of not for profit services pay above Award wages, most give more planning time than required under the Award and most pay for professional development and provide it during normal working hours8. Not for profit services who responded to the TICCSS tend to spend almost 80 per cent of their income on staff.
Goodstart this year has also increased pay rates for its workforce, with teachers receiving a 10 per cent wage increase to match teacher wages in schools, and qualified educators to be paid 3-5 per cent above the Award9. As mentioned earlier, G8 Education is also increasing wages, with fee increases likely to follow.
What needs to be done — CELA’s advocacy
The Public Health Order requiring education and care professionals to be fully vaccinated in order to attend work in NSW is due to expire soon; CELA is awaiting further advice and updates on this matter. Without an enacted Public Health Order or even written advice to the effect that one is on the way, we understand the uncertainty is very frustrating for both educators and services alike, making it more difficult to plan for staffing and recruitment needs for the new year.
Children aged 0-4 are now the only cohort unable to receive a vaccination against COVID-19, and case numbers are therefore likely to go up in ECEC services going forwards. The disruption for ECEC educators who may have to test and isolate more frequently than in other occupations adds to operational challenges and yet another disincentive to work in the sector.
Significant and immediate strategies are needed from government. These must include incentive payments to enrol in and complete a qualification and stay in a position, particularly in hard to staff areas, and improvements to conditions to ensure no financial punishment for getting tested and isolating. Without such strategies we can expect that fees for families will need to increase as services try to offer more generous pay and conditions, and closure or reduction of service provision will result — which ultimately hurts the economy as women’s participation in the workforce will reduce. It is this consequence which has already got the attention of our conservative governments, with NSW Premier Dom Perrottet last week calling in his National Press Club Address for the NSW Government to take on full responsibility for childcare sector10.
This is long-term thinking, but immediate support for the ECEC sector is urgently needed.
CELA is advocating to both State and Federal Governments for retention and incentive payments, reducing the cost of qualifications, and improved conditions for educators impacted by positive COVID-19 cases in the immediate term.
In the medium to long term, we are advocating for a stable and coherent funding arrangement for the early education and care sector, building on what we know works to deliver high quality — services which invest in their staff and teams. Whether it is funded and managed by State Government exclusively, or the Commonwealth exclusively, is a moot point at this stage. What matters is that both levels of Government step up and support ECEC to be an attractive and rewarding sector in which to build a career.
Thank you, CELA members!
Thank you to members who responded to this survey. Your feedback is greatly appreciated, and the data has already been used (and will continue to be used) in our advocacy around building and sustaining a high-quality workforce.
1. CELA, ELAA and CCC, (2021), “Investing in our Future: growing the education and care workforce”, page 20
2. Australian Financial Review (13 December 2021), “COVID-19, bank poaching inflame skills shortage in childcare centres.”
4. De Courten, M., Hurley, P., Broerse, J., Hildebrandt, M., Matthews, H., Pennicuik, S., (2021).
COVID-19 and early childhood, education and care. Mitchell Institute, Victoria University., page 24
5. CELA, ELAA and CCC, (2021), “Investing in our Future: growing the education and care workforce”, page 19
6. Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority, (2021) “Shaping our Future: a ten year strategy to to ensure a sustainable, high quality children’s education and care workforce 2022-2031" page 11
7. Australian Community Children’s Services, (2021), “Not for Profit Education and Care: High quality, accessible and resilient – findings from the 2020-21 Trends in Community Children’s Services Survey”, http://ausccs.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/TICCS_2021_wave6.pdf, page 21
8. Australian Community Children’s Services, (2021), “Not for Profit Education and Care: High quality, accessible and resilient – findings from the 2020-21 Trends in Community Children’s Services Survey”, page 48
9. Goodstart, July 2021, “Goodstart to match Teacher rates and boost educator wages”
10. Dominic Perrottet, National Press Club Address December 8 2021