It would be a huge understatement to say that early childhood educators have been through a lot these past few years. Between covid closures, cleaning protocols, enrollment drops and trying to provide quality care for children and support families during one of the most difficult times in our country’s recent history we can safely say that it has been ..a lot.
Now that things are returning to normal(ish) as folks get vaccinated and we know more about the virus, one major problem still lingers for educators. Staffing shortages. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics early childhood lost approximately one-third of the workforce from February through April of 2020. While many educators have returned, the workforce is still short by approximately 10 percent of its pre-pandemic workforce with the main reason cited being low wages and benefits.
This puts providers needing to hire in a very tough situation. Subsidy rates do not allow business owners to raise the wage that they are able to pay workers. Providers are reluctant to raise prices and pass the cost on to parents for fear that childcare will become unaffordable for them. Lots of providers have had to reduce the number of children that they care for because they have not been able to hire staff.
So what can we do?
Think Outside The Box
Typically, providers hire teachers by placing ads on job sites like Indeed and can get enough responses to sift through and find qualified applicants. In the current market, however, this can be difficult. Providers are reporting having very few qualified applicants in response to ads which can be frustrating. To solve this problem you may have to consider strategies that you may not have used previously. Be sure and post in your local R and R or community college job board. If there are substitute agencies in your area, see if they have a temp-to-hire program. Cast a wide net and consider folks who may seem great but might have less experience. With good training, there are a lot of wonderful opportunities for you to discover an amazing new teacher.
Review Your Benefits and Salary
Take a close look at some of the ways that you can offer teachers a higher salary and/or benefits package. If you have had to reduce the number of children that you care for because you can’t find the right person, it might make sense to offer a higher salary in order to increase your income. Stabilization Grants ( more below ) can help with this. If higher salaries aren’t feasible, think about benefits that you can offer that might be low-cost to you. Things like professional development packages, child care tuition discounts, or additional personal days off might be a strategy that attracts job searchers.
Utilize Stabilization Grants
ARPA grant funding can be used for business expenses related to the Pandemic including personnel costs. Having the right people in place is key to running a successful program and these grants are available to you to help with that. For more information on Stabilization Grants check out the Wonderschool Child Care Stabilization Grant Webinar.
Show Your Appreciation
Once you have some great folks on board, make sure to show your appreciation for all of their hard work! Small tokens like treats and coffee or a thank you card go a long way to letting people know that you recognize their contributions to the program and community. Allowing your teachers to help make decisions about the program (perhaps everyone takes turns leading a staff meeting, or planning the next professional development topic, or managing a process like parent-teacher conference/child assessments) builds a sense of autonomy and pride. Additionally, you can consider strategies such as a retention bonus where a teacher would earn a bonus after successfully completing a particular amount of time at your program.
Happy teachers mean less turnover and a more stable program which means fewer headaches for you!