Growing and nurturing a quality ECEC workforce is crucial if we want all Australian children to be able to access quality early learning. Consultations on the National Workforce Strategy are imminent, so the time is right to consider how we can enable our sector to attract, develop and retain a quality workforce.
CELA Research and Policy Manager Megan O’Connell takes a look at what the main issues are, what other sectors are doing to address workforce challenges, and why we need a national strategy right now.
By Megan O’Connell
It’s well known that there is a national shortage of early childhood educators and teachers, and this issue has only been exacerbated by COVID-related border closures stopping the flow of skilled migrants, who usually make up a portion of the ECEC workforce.
The latest Job Outlook data indicates that we will need another 7,000 teachers by 2023, and 30,000 educators.
Already there is a workforce shortage with 6% of services overall, and nearly one in six in very remote areas, receiving a waiver from meeting staffing requirements.
To put our sector’s situation into perspective, around 28,000 additional primary and secondary teachers will be needed by 2023, which is still a large gap to fill, but considerably smaller than the challenges faced by our sector.
The early childhood education workforce is larger than either the primary and secondary school workforce, yet receives a fraction of the attention. Solving workforce issues cannot be left to providers alone.
Other sectors receive targeted workforce development support from the government
When workforce shortages become significant in other sectors and threaten to undermine the functioning of workplaces or access to quality services, governments can and do intervene.
Health sector – initiatives to grow the regional health workforce
Prime examples include the wide range of programs aimed at growing and supporting Australia’s rural and remote health workforce.
These include initiatives to support overseas trained doctors to gain locally recognised qualifications such as accessing mentoring and supervision and paid training, to work until accreditation is achieved.
Scholarship programs are available for doctors, nurses and allied health professionals in rural and remote areas to upskill.
Primary and secondary education – targeted intervention to address skill shortages
The primary and secondary education teaching workforce has been the focus of targeted intervention across many years.
Across Australia, a range of programs exist to encourage teachers to enter skill shortage areas or hard to fill locations.
This includes supporting Teach for Australia to fast-track teachers in hard to fill areas and the teach.Maths.NOW program that provides New South Wales pre-service teachers with a scholarship to offset the cost of their studies and access to employment as a paraprofessional whilst they complete their studies.
Similar programs operate for students who commit to teaching in rural areas, including the opportunity to undertake a rural placement with a $500 per week allowance.
Providing subsidies and allowances to encourage skilled early educators to undertake placements in hard to staff services/locations could be a great initiative.
A right to quality early education for all children deserves to be nationally supported
Supporting professional learning and progression is the responsibility of all of us – member organisations, employers and government.
ELACCA has commenced the Big Roles in Little Lives campaign which is designed to attract more people into early childhood education, whilst some larger providers also offer incentives to encourage staff to upskill. However, these alone are not sufficient to address current shortages.
People’s rights to access medical care in rural and regional areas is, rightly, seen as a justification for government intervention. Similarly, children’s need for trained teachers in primary and secondary level education also triggers government intervention. To date, this logic has not universally applied to early childhood education.
A state by state approach is inefficient
Some states focus on building their early childhood workforce more than others – in Victoria, the push for 3 year old kinder includes a large investment in workforce development. More than $8 million in incentives is available to build the Victorian early education workforce, from scholarships to complete a graduate or postgraduate qualification, to incentives for staff who agree to teach far from home or to switch from primary teaching or another profession. A fast-tracked bachelor degree has also been developed to rapidly upskill diploma qualified educators.
These initiatives are great, but will make little impact on national skill shortages, and are unlikely to increase the flow of educators into the system. Perversely, they may well drive some educators to upskill and exacerbate entry-level shortages.
The time is right for a national strategy
We need a national focus on workforce development – if we care about reducing inequality, and reducing the city-rural gap, a nationwide systemic approach is needed. We can learn from existing initiatives in early childhood, teaching and health and implement targeted initiatives focused on areas of need, whilst building workforce capacity overall.
The time has come for a national approach to the workforce – the national workforce strategy, to be finalised this year, needs to lead the way. We will consult you when the draft strategy is released in the next few months, but in the meantime, we welcome your early insights.
We want to know what you think – what would work to support workforce development in your area? What do you want included in the strategy? Let us know via email, we would love to share your ideas. Contact us via firstname.lastname@example.org.
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