As the UK government announces plans to launch new training options in an effort to boost productivity and tackle unemployment as a result of the coronavirus crisis, we have been considering the impact of this on the early years sector. Many of the settings that we work with have had to make redundancies or significantly reduce hours in order to keep their setting afloat as numbers of children reduce. This has not been done lightly and early years leaders have considered many options in a bid to keep their staff in their jobs. We know that there is a recruitment crisis in the sector, with many leaders reporting poor knowledge and skills of applicants along with a lack of ambition and drive. So losing brilliant staff, having invested so much time and finances in inducting and training them, not to mention DBS checks, uniforms and a whole host of other expenses is a bitter pill to swallow. But will these newly proposed measures actually help the sector?
The support will include funding to allow adults without qualifications to take certain educational courses for free, as well as flexible loans allowing people to space out their studies and transfer credits between institutions. We don’t yet know what these courses are or whether early years qualifications will be included, however if early education courses are part of the qualifications list, this may well be a positive step in the right direction. We hope that this will encourage adults who are looking for a career change to enter the sector, potentially bringing some age diversity into a relatively young workforce. It will be important that the qualifications offered as part of this reform are valid and current, ensuring that new entrants into the workforce are appropriately qualified to do so, with perhaps entry level courses for those who want to ‘dip their toe’ into early years waters!
The overarching government plan is based on encouraging people to learn new skills, and thus, the unemployment rate, which stands at 4.1%, according to the Office for National Statistics will be improved. Unemployment levels are expected to increase as the government’s job retention furlough scheme comes to an end in October, to be replaced by a scaled-back job support programme.
Will this help recruitment in the sector? The jury is still out.....
In recent announcements, UK chancellor Rishi Sunak, admitted unemployment will continue to rise, even as he unveiled a package of new crisis measures in his ‘Winter Economy Plan’, designed to save firms and jobs. However, in the early years sector, we might argue that what we need are the funds to enable us to keep our well trained, experienced staff on the payroll, not lay them off and have to re-recruit them again when things have improved, or recruit newly qualified people without the skills and experience our workforce truly needs. Whilst the opportunity to train is a welcome gesture, the early years sector needs a balance of experience, only gained through time working alongside children and families. A setting of newly trained practitioners will not offer the depth of knowledge and skills the sector needs to offer the best early education for our youngest children.
However, as we see a bigger shift towards online shopping and the closure of many traditional shops, pubs and restaurants, might that open up the early years sector as a great sector to work in, encouraging those public sector workers to retrain and enter the early years workforce? Could this be the solution to the recruitment crisis and encourage a wider range of applicants, including older applicants, male practitioners and people with disabilities and from diverse backgrounds?
The government also has plans to provide more funding for apprenticeships in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and will extend a pilot programme known as “digital skill boot camps” to new locations. With the skills shortage on our sector, could this be the answer?
At The Key, we feel there is no one size fits all approach. We need to retain the skills and experience we have in the sector, that is essential in providing the very best service to our children. Moreover, we need to continue to invest in training on deeper and wider issues so that early education is highlighted for the important part it plays in a child’s educational journey. These reforms must be the start of something wider, something bigger and something far more substantial that we have currently, with further investment and reforms, throughout an employees career. Investment in more bespoke, sector specific training will be essential, ensuring that the early years workforce continues to flourish.
Whilst we welcome the investment into training and reforms, we recognise that the early years sector is unique, not only in the service it provides, but in the needs of the workforce, in terms of its growth, diversity and career opportunity. This in itself needs further discourse and investigation to ensure that the children of today are the passionate and engaged workforce of tomorrow.