Childcare and early learning centres have been hit hard by COVID-19. Closures, cleaning costs, decreased enrolment and attendance, and a reduction in the available workforce ‒ all these add pressure to an industry that is already struggling with low profitability and worker retention rates.
For childcare and early learning centres to not just survive but also thrive in these times, they need a well-trained, engaged workforce. Yet workers’ priorities and expectations have also been shaped by the pandemic, and companies need to adapt.
Our ebook, Improving Child Care Worker Retention in Challenging Times, explores what child care workers want and how centres can reduce worker churn. You can download it here or keep reading for our synopsis.
Challenging Times for the Childcare and Early Learning Industry
During the height of the pandemic, many childcare and early learning centres have been forced to close or only provide services for vulnerable children and the children of essential workers – impacting worker retention.
Where there have been COVID-19 outbreaks, centres have also had to close for quarantines and expensive deep cleaning. In Victoria, deep cleaning was estimated to cost up to $9,000 – six times the maximum amount of cleaning grants provided by the Victorian government.
Even where centres have been able to remain open, demand has dropped dramatically. Many parents have either stopped taking their children to the child care centre or reduced the number of days they attend.
Meanwhile, government aid is winding to an end. Childcare and early learning centres that were already feeling squeezed by the increased costs and reduced incomes now face less financial support.
Despite this, the outlook for childcare and early learning centres does not have to be gloomy. With careful planning, organisations can come out ahead. Key to this, however, is having an engaged, well-trained and retained workforce. And unfortunately, that’s another area in which centres may be struggling.
Childcare and Early Learning Worker Retention: Challenging but Important
The childcare and early learning industry faced retention issues even before the pandemic. COVID-19 outbreaks, however, have exacerbated them.
The Australian early childhood education and care industry has historically suffered from high turnover rates. In fact, they have been estimated to exceed 30% a year for over a decade. Educators average just 3.5 years within a company. As a result, new recruits make up a significant part of most centres’ staff.
In 2020, however, we have seen fewer available childcare and early learning workers than usual, especially when it comes to casual workers. Many migrant workers have returned to their country of origin, while other staff members have had to reduce their availability so they can care for their children and ill family members.
With reduced worker supply, retention is more important than ever. Yet it’s not just about competing for the best staff in an increasingly smaller pool of options. It’s also about running a financially fit company and delivering good service.
Losing trained workers is financially expensive. On average, replacing them costs 20% of their annual salary or more. It also represents lost institutional knowledge, which can potentially reduce the quality of education and care provided. In turn, this can affect enrolment rates.
Then there is the emotional cost: high turnover reduces worker morale and creates a constantly changing environment for young children. Both of these can have a profound impact on children’s development and a centre’s financial viability.
Centre managers face significant day-to-day challenges, from managing staff rosters and schedules to addressing regulation and compliance issues. It’s easy for more systemic considerations, such as worker retention and engagement, to be overlooked.
However, prioritising worker retention will help organisations weather these challenging times while also improving their financial resilience and the quality of education and care.
Understanding the Casual Childcare and Early Learning Worker
Casual workers make up a significant and growing part of the childcare and early learning industry, and understanding them is key to retaining them.
Casual workers across all age groups tend to be attracted by the combination of financial security and flexible schedules. They value the ability to fit their work alongside other important parts of their lives, such as their family, studies and hobbies.
According to a Gallup study, predictable pay or a “guaranteed number of hours” is the most important factor for casual workers, followed by flexibility and then premium wages.
This is good news for childcare and early learning centres, which stand to gain from offering flexibility. Not only do they improve staff satisfaction and retention rates, but they can also adapt shift patterns to match demand – and thereby improve financial efficiency.
However, to take advantage of this, they should use technology to accurately predict what workers they need. AI intelligence can also learn employees’ shift preferences and adjust the master schedule to match, meaning that both workers and managers benefit.
Childcare and Early Learning Worker Retention and Engagement in Challenging Times
Although casual workers prioritise predictable pay and flexibility, companies can also improve retention by creating a positive and empathetic culture.
Company culture is sometimes more effective at engaging and retaining workers than pay raises and bonuses. However, casual workers are often overlooked when it comes to building a team spirit. Modern technology can remedy this.
Mobile apps can improve staff communication and reinforce a positive workplace culture. They can keep workers updated on the centre’s goals and activities, encourage messages between team members, create birthday notifications, gather and implement worker suggestions, monitor engagement data and more. What’s more, they can help centres stay compliant.
Improving childcare and early learning worker engagement should decrease worker churn and improve the quality of education and care, thereby bolstering enrolment figures. This will better position centres to face the current challenges of COVID-19, low attendance levels, reduced government support and more – and thrive.
To find out more about improving childcare and early learning casual worker retention, download our ebook. Alternatively, get in touch today to discuss how our mobile app technology can help you boost worker engagement and offer flexible scheduling. We’ll be happy to set up a free, personalised demo.