7 July 2021

CareersXpo cancellation leaves early childhood educators scrambling to find new recruits

| Katrina Condie
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Communities@Work educator reading book to child

A shortage of childhood educators is impacting Canberra families as child care centres struggle to recruit new staff. Photo: Communities@Work.

The cancellation of this year’s CareersXpo due to the latest COVID-19 outbreak has thrown a spanner in the works for employers seeking to recruit new staff in Canberra.

With a critical shortage of early childhood educators, Communities@Work was aiming to pick up some new recruits at the event planned for August 2021 after many workers left the sector during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020.

The highly casualised workforce meant a lot of educators were unable to access JobKeeper payments, and the closure of some training facilities during the pandemic also meant the recruitment of new educators was much lower than previous years, leaving many Canberra families without access to child care.

Communities@Work children’s services director Kellie Stewart says while the organisation is continually training new educators, it is unable to keep up with growing demand.

She was hoping the CareersXpo, which was to be held on 4-5 August, would help lure new recruits into the industry.

According to Kellie, finding new staff can be difficult because some people still incorrectly perceive educators as ‘glorified babysitters’, however she says working in early childhood education can be a challenging and rewarding career.

“There aren’t many careers where you can make a real difference, and early childhood education is one of them,” she says.

“Our educators put a lot of time into developing important relationships with children and their families, and into documenting the children’s learning journeys.

“By highlighting the positive impact educators have on a child’s life and the important role they play, we hope to raise the community’s respect for educators and attract new people to this sector.”

Communities@Work educator with children

A career in early childhood education is rewarding and challenging. Photo: Communities@Work.

Kellie says Communities@Work invests significantly in training and ongoing professional development through its registered training organisation.

The organisation has also established mentoring and coaching networks for educators, and has won the Large Employer of the Year at the ACT Training Awards for the past two years.

“We strive to be an employer of choice, offering values-based employment, with meaningful and appealing employee benefits, including salary packaging, free vaccinations and healthy activity reimbursements,” says Kellie.

She is calling on the ACT Government and Federal Government to further invest in the training of educators, as well as simplifying the Child Care Subsidy system, with the goal of every child having access to high-quality early education and care.

While Communities@Work welcomes the recent Federal Government budget announcement to increase the maximum Child Care Subsidy rate from 85 per cent to 95 per cent for families with more than one child in long-day early learning and care services, and removal of the annual fee cap, Kellie says it will place even more pressure on the sector.

“More families will be wanting education and care, and to ensure we can meet this growing demand, we need further investment to support the ongoing training and professional development of educators,” she says.

The shortage of educators impacts things such as programming and planning time and educator’s breaks, but the biggest impact is on children and families.

“Less educators means more administrative workload with less people to do it, which sometimes means less time with children,” explains Kellie.

Communities@Work educator reading book to children

Early childhood educators play an important role in the development of our children. Photo: Communities@Work.

Currently advertising for more than 20 qualified educators, Kellie says ongoing recruitment comes at a high cost to Communities@Work so it’s crucial to attract the right staff.

“As a local not-for-profit community organisation that invests every dollar we earn back into our community, every dollar we spend on recruitment is a dollar we are unable to spend in our community,” she says.

However, despite a staff shortage, Kellie says Communities@Work will continue to support Canberra families.

“We are investing in expanding our community food pantries and other support services to meet anticipated growing demand,” she says.

“We have launched new outreach and connection programs to empower people to build community capacity and resilience, and we will support families and children right across our children’s services.”

Communities@Work is Canberra’s largest local provider of education and care services, and is one of Canberra’s largest employers, employing more than 450 educators and boasting in excess of 650 employees.

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