The European Commission has published a new policy brief which examines the causes and repercussions of staff shortages in the Early Years (EY) sector. It always looks at possible measures to address the shortages.
Increasing Staff Shortages
Most European countries are facing staff shortages in the EY sector. Austria requires 7,200 more staff by 2025 to maintain the current quality of EY provision, or an additional 9,900 staff to improve quality. The Ministry of Education in Croatia has signalled that they are short of 5,850 EY teachers. The Croatian National Education System Development Plan for the period until 2027 and its Action plan until 2024 aims at increasing the inclusion of preschool children aged four to 6 from 78 per cent to 97 per cent.
Finland was short of approximately 6,000 EY teachers in 2022. The issue is more serious in the capital, Helsinki where 4,000 places for children would be immediately available were not for the shortages. 10,000 professionals are currently absent from crèches in France, along with 120,000 home-based childminders due to retire by 2030. It is estimated that there will be a lack of approximately 72,500 skilled EY workers in Germany by 2025.
56 per cent of services in Ireland reported having experienced recruitment challenges in the year leading up to mid-2023. 31 per cent of services reported having at least one vacancy among staff by the middle of 2023. In 2019 and 2020, kindergartens looked for around 920 additional teachers each year in Slovakia. This accounted for 5.2 per cent of the total kindergarten teacher population. By 2021, this number increased to 1,170 vacant positions, approximately 6.3 per cent of the teacher population.
The policy brief lists a series of causes of the staff shortages that the EY sector is experiencing. Positive causes include an increased number of children, better staff-to-child ratios, a universal right to EY care, and an increase in the offer of and participation in EY.
The policy brief also cites negative causes. These include low salaries and limited financial benefits including pensions. Limited career opportunities are also a factor, as well as limited training and opportunities for continuous professional development. The lack of status in the profession is also unattractive to prospective workers. Recruiting untrained staff is also a factor as it leads to poorer quality of provision or extra workload. High staff turnover and the aging of staff have also led to staff shortages in the sector.
Staff shortages can limit the availability and accessibility of EY services due to reduced opening hours, long waiting lists for enrollment, and can challenge the inclusion of children with additional needs. The quality of EY provision can also be impacted as staff shortages can lead to the recruitment of under-qualified staff. The inclusiveness of EY provision can also be affected as staff shortages can make staff-child ratios harder to maintain.
Staff shortages can also make it more difficult to observe children, thus leading to safety concerns. Shortages in staffing can cause an unstable workforce, thus reducing the attractiveness of the profession which in turn worsens the overall problem.
Staff shortages in the EY sector can also have a significant economic impact. EY provision plays an important role in supporting workforce participation. Staff shortages can lead to a reduction of places in EY care leading to a lowering of parental workforce participation and decreased productivity levels in the economy.
The policy brief outlines a series of measures that could improve the current staffing situation in the sector. It emphasises that short-term measures should be combined with a long-term strategy to properly address the issues. Diversifying recruitment strategies could improve the staffing situation. These can include diversifying the offer and accessibility of Early Years studies, developing a wide range of roles to appeal to a broad range of applicants, and addressing the gender imbalance in the workforce.
Other measures include making sure the profession is valued and that its educational and social value are properly recognised. Offering motivating and dynamic career opportunities, and the prospects for continuous professional development would also improve staff recruitment and retention. Improving the working conditions of staff could also have a big impact. This could include improving salaries, reducing the staff-to-child ratio, offering more stable working hours and contractual status, and offering more child-free time to foster teamwork and professional development.
In Early Childhood Ireland’s Budget 2024 submission, we advocated for increased Graduate Premiums in order to further incentivise the recruitment and retention of graduates. If you have any questions regarding this policy brief or any of our work, please contact our policy team.