Australia’s national campaign to reform early learning and childcare, Thrive by Five, is calling on Federal, state and territory governments to urgently address the workforce crisis in early education and childcare, with thousands of job vacancies, high staff turnover and inadequate pay and conditions for too many early years educators.
The campaign recently made a submission to the Ten-Year National Children’s Education and Care Workforce Strategy via the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) feedback survey calling for the Federal Government to prepare detailed workforce planning, including an outline of the number of vacancies that are expected in the next few years, and a detailed strategy to address workforce supply to fill the gap.
A recent analysis on the Seek jobs website conducted on 1 June 2021 has found the number of Seek job vacancies for early childhood teachers and educators is more than 12,000. For a workforce of about 170,000, this is extremely high at about 7 per cent. For every thirteen educators, there is still one missing.
This combination of high demand and a lack of employment opportunities means that conditions for educators are often quite shocking and pre-COVID staff turnover was estimated at up to 30 per cent. Early career educators could earn more at a call centre than they do for the essential service of educating and caring for children.
Therefore, it is unsurprising that 10 per cent of all Long Day Care Centres in Australia received a waiver from regulators from the National Quality Standard because they could not meet staffing requirements. Children are missing out on quality early learning opportunities. There is also little hope of improvement without strong Government intervention with 2019 ACECQA Employment Projections for the five years to May 2024 suggesting that the children’s education and care sector will require approximately 24,000 additional educators (a 12 per cent increase) and 7,000 additional teachers (a 16 per cent increase). This Is much higher than the 7.8 per cent growth expected across the whole economy.
Thrive by Five CEO Jay Weatherill said that a sense of urgency to address the early education workforce crisis was missing from the ACECQA consultation, and if governments weren’t careful, Australia could end up with a workforce crisis similar to that seen in the aged care sector. Additionally, children are missing out on early learning and parents are missing out on being able to work because of systemic early childhood workforce challenges.
“This is an impending disaster that has not been adequately addressed by government consultation. We need accurate targets, strategies and funding to fill in the supply gap and make a difference now before it’s too late,” he said.
“The major issue is improving the conditions for teachers and educators in the sector. This would be the single biggest tactic we can employ to stabilise the sector and attract and retain educators. This will in turn improve employee wellbeing and the sector’s sense of professional value.
“We know that the Federal Government has made affordable early learning and childcare a priority in the latest Federal Budget, so we would now urge them to do a more fundamental rethink and address a sector in urgent need of reform for the sake of essential workers and future generations.”
Additional statistics for an ongoing workforce in crisis (ACECQA 2021 Consultation Paper):
- There are declining enrolments in approved qualifications (the number of enrolments in the Diploma of Early Childhood Education and Care declined by more than a third between 2016 and 2019, while commencement numbers for early childhood initial teacher training degrees in 2018 down by a quarter compared to 2012), the children’s education and care sector faces significant and increasingly urgent workforce challenges.
- There has also been a notable increase in staffing waivers in recent years across all Early Childhood Education and Care services (at the start of 2021, 6.3% of services had a waiver in place for one or more of the NQF staffing requirements, compared to 3.1% at the start of 2017).