Avoid early childhood education, say educators

Tuesday, 24 August, 2021

Avoid early childhood education, say educators

Almost half of early childhood education and care professionals say they would not recommend pursuing a career in the sector.

New research from industry super fund HESTA shows that while many educators speak highly of their employers, almost one in five was considering leaving the industry.

The ‘State of the Sector 2021: Early Childhood Education and Care Workforce Insights’ report looking at the working experience and attitudes of HESTA members reveals that the industry — which is already facing chronic workforce shortages — also faces significant challenges attracting and retaining talent.

Almost one in five early childhood education and care (ECEC) professionals surveyed said they were considering leaving the industry within two years. Among the biggest issues were dissatisfaction with wages, feeling unappreciated by the community for their role as early educators and a lack of opportunities for growth (promotion).

The research did find positive sentiment across a range of measures related to how ECEC professionals felt about their employers, with 87% saying they felt somewhat or strongly supported by their employers during COVID.

However, this didn’t flow through to a greater willingness to advocate for working in the sector. Although 42% of respondents said they’d strongly recommend working for their employer, 43% were strong detractors when it came to recommending a career in the industry. Less than a third of respondents said they would strongly recommend a career in the industry.

“This research shows the big gap between how professionals feel about where they work and whether they see a long-term career in the industry,” HESTA CEO Debby Blakey said.

“It’s great to see individual employers stepping up and supporting their employees, but unless the broader issues of low pay, a lack of development opportunities and community perception are addressed, the industry will face a chronic shortage of skilled professionals.”

In a 2019 workforce report on the future of the ECEC workforce, the independent Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) forecasted the sector will need more than 39,000 extra educators by 2023 — a 20% increase in the workforce.

HESTA has more than 63,000 members working in the sector. As part of this workforce research project, HESTA surveyed professionals working across health and community services in May 2019 and in July 2020. More than 4600 members responded to the survey, including more than 360 ECEC professionals.

Questions looked at members’ job intentions, their employment satisfaction drivers, their attitudes towards their employer and industry, as well as how the COVID-19 pandemic affected their work, financial situation and industry outlook.

HESTA members working in ECEC had the lowest median super account balance of any industry cohort, with 74% having a median account balance of less than $50,000. Hit hard by the pandemic, nearly 20% of HESTA members working in ECEC also made a claim under the federal government’s early release of super (ERS) scheme. This group saw their median account balance fall by an average of 49%.

“During the pandemic we saw the critical role our early educators play in supporting our community,” Blakey said.

“We also saw just how precarious their employment and financial situation is. We know from the early release of super, the heartbreaking prevalence of financial hardship among these members — and it points to the need to improve the quality and security of jobs in the sector.”

Over a third of respondents reported that their household income was less than $60,000 and almost one in five reported their household earned less than $40,000.

“HESTA strongly supports free universal childcare as a key productivity measure to improve women’s workforce participation and lifetime earning potential in order to lead to better outcomes for generations of Australian children,” Blakey said.

“When Australia faced the initial shock of COVID-19, early educators were there to support the push to protect our community. Now is the time to ensure a long-term, sustainably funded, early childhood education sector. But this funding must also look to lift low wages and improve conditions for those who are so vital to delivering these critical services.”

The report is available here.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/lordn

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